Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Midwest Visit

I finally was able to sort out my photos from last week's trip to Wisconsin and Illinois to visit my sister. We spent some time in Galena, Illinois, a place I have wanted to visit for quite awhile.

It was a solid three hour drive from Milwaukee so we didn't get to Galena until around 1:00 p.m. We spent the afternoon hitting the shops on - what else? - Main Street. We stopped for ice cream, then for chocolate, and, of course, to a cute bar for a drink.

After a few hours, we found out that all the stores close at 5:00 p.m. - go figure. Strange for a tourist area! So we headed back to our hotel and found a great Italian restaurant nearby for dinner.

We planned to go back to Galena the next day, and we did - starting with breakfast at a place a friend told me had the best coffee he ever tasted. Arrgghhh - contrary to what the tourist brochure said, they don't serve breakfast. (The coffee was good; maybe not the best ever, though.) So off we went back to Main Street, and by this point we were starting to get rained on. The weather report was ominous with severe weather heading east, so we decided to cut our visit short and head east ourselves to perhaps get ahead of the bad weather. We had also decided earlier to make another stop on the way back.

Have you ever heard of The House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin? Now a week later, I still can't decide what I think of it. It's one of the most oddly interesting places I have ever seen, the singular vision of a man named Alex Jordan. The book I bought in their gift shop put a nice face on him, but it didn't really tell me what I wanted to know about this man, who I think must have been quite eccentric. And the book also didn't tell me enough about the sheer numbers of collections contained in this place. It did tell me that the entire place was built without a blueprint - a fact I didn't find surprising after I had walked through it! And this: "Alex Jordan was always - always - on the lookout for things. Often there didn't seem to be a plan, or even a rhyme or reason. If something was unique, interesting or unusual, there was a good chance he wanted it."

(A word of caution if you do visit: there's three sections to see, and if you sign up for all three you will have walked a total of 2.5 miles! And you go up, up, up, then down, down, down, then around and around. And most of it in very dim light. It certainly put my bad back to the test.)

It's hard to describe. There's every kind of collection you could imagine in here - dolls, weapons, stained glass, bronze statues, doll houses, a three story wall of rare books, organs, grand pianos, etc. etc. etc. - and that's just a start.

All throughout the House is probably the largest collection of animated and automated music machines, with mannequin musicians "playing." Now this started to get a little creepy. Ominous sounding organ music and all those animated mannequins in the shadows started to make us feel like we had walked into the Twilight Zone! Here's a full orchestra:
The one exhibit I was most anxious to see was the "world's largest carousel." I thought that might be a good photo op, and it was. What I was surprised to find out is that this carousel was built entirely on the premises and has never been ridden by anyone! "It boasts over 20,000 lights and 269 hand-crafted animals, ... It measures 35 feet tall, 80 feet wide, weighs 35 tons and took 10 years to complete." The animals are about 6 rows deep.
While I was touring the exhibits, I assumed that all of it was collected from elsewhere. But it turns out that it's a mixture of real antiques with other items built right on the premises. Mr. Jordan apparently didn't like to travel either, so anything he collected he purchased almost entirely on the phone!

All in all, it was an interesting visit. But I'll think twice the next time about that 2.5 miles!

My sister was then subjected to my own artist-quirkiness, when I made her stop at this abandoned garage so I could take photos.

After all that, we spent two days at my sister's condo planning how to redecorate her bedroom, hanging pictures, and rearranging her collections. (That girl has more tchotckes and framed stuff than I've ever seen. I thought I was bad ...) I now have a pile of lovely blue and white fabrics to make a bedspread, faux headboard and pillows for her bed. I see a sewing marathon in my future ...

If you've ever been to The House on the Rock I would love to hear what you thought about it. Interesting? Fascinating? Weird? Quirky? Or all that?


  1. Felicia,
    Looked like you had a wonderful vacation!
    I had no idea how Wisconsin or Illinois should look like - thanks for taking me to a tour!
    Love the pictures especially the vintage cars and garage...

    I've never been to the House of Rock, just to the House of Blues in Orlando..

    Have fun decorating!

  2. Wisconsin, Illinois - part of the heartland. Hey, I was at the House of Blues in Orlando once too. Back in the day when I worked for a living (like what we do now isn't work!) In fact, I recall that being quite a raucous night with my crew!

  3. Sounds like a grand adventure!

    I was trying to recall why the House on the Tock was familiar & then remembered that it plays an important part in the Neil Gaiman novel American Gods

  4. How interesting! Checked Amazon reviews and the House must have been one of the "bizarre roadside attractions." That place could be a setting for all kinds of scary and strange movies - seriously, you feel like you're in a movie walking through some of the exhibits. Wonder if they do anything for Halloween ;)?


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