Tuesday, November 27, 2007

House on the Rock, Part the Fifth

Now... just what was the source of those shimmering lights you glimpsed at the end of part the fourth? Why, none other than the pulsating, whirling heart of House on the Rock, the World's Largest Carousel!

Now, I don't know if it really IS the largest carousel in the world, but House on the Rock claims that it is. And it doesn't contain one, single horse. Nope... the horses are there on the premises, just not on the carousel or in the room that houses it.

The Carousel Room is not for the timid. It is loud, what with the carousel's music blaring from all corners. The carousel spins so quickly that it's hard to capture its splendor up close.

With a flash, though, the nature of the creatures that ARE featured on the carousel becomes apparent.

Hubba, hubba!

Yes, indeed. Mr Jordan had a thing about nude and semi-nude ladies--even ones who hide their winsome faces underneath elaborate Valkyrie helmets.

The carousel figures are not the only comely attractions in this room. Half-clad nymphets and buxom winged angels hang from the ceiling. Here is one of the more bizarre manikins--note the fox mask in hand.

Despite the swirling splendor that surrounds you, it is difficult to withstand the sheer sensory overload of the Carousel Room for very long. You pass through a doorway that is, literally, a monster's maw, and you enter the Organ Room.

If the carousel is the heart of House on the Rock, the dark, moody Organ Room is its dark, moody soul. The room takes its name from the huge organ consoles on display there--this one, with its built-in TV monitors, is only one of three such behemoths inhabiting the room.

There is more to the Organ Room than its consoles, though. As you can see, after the eye-searing brilliance of the Carousel Room, the Organ Room is dark--so dark that it's as if you have been plunged into a Midsummer Night's Dream gone very badly awry. What illumination does filter through the room comes mostly from a huge red chandelier that dominates the center of the ceiling. You can see it here, behind the lady and her lion:

There are catwalks throughout the room, populated by manikins that you would swear came right out of Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade, except that they have been there since long before Jo Rowling put pen to paper, and they sport the dust to prove it.

Oh, and did I mention the birch trees that would sway in the wind all over the Organ Room if, indeed, there were a breeze blowing through it?

And, lest you think the room not QUITE spooky enough, I'm sure the collection of gigantic figural beer steins will dissuade your bravado.

Next up, doll houses, circus dioramas, and other general craziness.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Your Attention, Please!

We interrupt this string of House on the Rock entries to bring you this bit of news that is just too quirky to wait for the end of the tour:

I ordered two CDs for my brother for his birthday and had them sent, gift-wrapped, from Amazon. They were Wesley Willis Greatest Hits and Wesley Willis Greatest Hits, Volume 2. Wesley Willis was a local Chicago music phenom and, let's just say, an acquired taste. I had given my brother a copy of his greatest hits CD as a Christmas present a few years ago, but, alas! He had loaned it to a friend and that was the last he ever saw of it. So I figured a replacement would be a perfect birthday gift. When I found that there were MORE compilations of Wesley Willis's "hits," I added onto the treasure trove.

They arrived to him in good order, but he plucked them out of his mailbox as he was heading into work at one of his several jobs--this one at a local coffeehouse and watering hole. He stuffed the wrapped CDs in his messenger bag, planning to spend the evening after work listening to the oeuvre of Monsieur Willis. Alas, yet again! Sometime during his shift, the CDs were pilfered, gift-wrap and all, out of his bag! He called me that night, angry but chagrined. I told him not to worry... stuff like this happens, and, while it sucks, it's just stuff. And Christmas is looming...

Well, he just called me. Turns out that he has a shift at the same place this morning, and when he arrived this a.m. he found the CDs, unwrapped, under the bar. Only one of them--the original greatest hits album--was out of its shrink wrap. A guy had brought them in last night, saying that he had picked them up out of the closet by mistake, and that he was horrified to discover that they were not his... so he was returning them!!

Now, really. The CDs were gift-wrapped with a tag addressed specifically to my brother on them, and they were INSIDE his bag, so there is no way this guy could have picked them up by mistake. The most hilarious thing about the whole incident is that the guy obviously opened the first one, popped it in the deck, and was so horrified at what assailed his ears that he didn't even bother to open the second one--he just gathered the two of them up and BROUGHT THEM BACK to the scene of his crime! Too funny!!

Sometimes the karma police have a grand sense of humor!

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Friday, November 23, 2007

House on the Rock, Part the Fourth (and goodness knows how many more will follow!)

Follow the pied piper from the warmth and safety of your pizza and restroom break and venture deeper, toward the heart of the House on the Rock experience.

Next up on our tour: The Music of Yesterday.

Some of the music machines on display here are antiques that have been restored to their former glory, and some sprang entirely from the fevered imagination and herculean efforts of Alex Jordan himself. For example, the Blue Room, with its mechanical chamber orchestra:

The music works in this room used to be notoriously off-key, but, as with the Gladiator earlier in the tour, we were unpleasantly surprised to find that it had been tuned up as well. Almost. As we turned to go, about halfway through a passable rendition of the Poet and Peasant Overture, something--who could identify which instrument it was?--sounded SUCH a sour note that it struck joy into our hearts! They can try to tune these things up--but apparently they cannot succeed entirely! Hooray! I wonder how the Blue Room's version of the Anvil Chorus survived the tuning. Heh.

Among the most stunning of the music machines on display (and they are all incredible to behold) is the Mikado:

It's a dazzling display of gilt and stiff, limited audio-animatronics, what with this Mifune-esque tympanist sitting in the center of it all, scowling and pounding out a relatively steady beat to Danse Macabre:

Truly, the Mikado is the high point of the Music of Yesterday section, but it is in no way its last mecha-musical extravaganza.

There is the Blue Danube:

And the sparkly, dripping rock-candy crystal of The Red Room, which plays Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and features a sumptuous velvet-lined sleigh pulled by uber-fanged lion and tiger:

Add to this a host of smaller and sometimes just downright strange offerings such as this bear and monkey show

and you have the makings of a surreal, cerebral carnival--with no drugs involved! (Well--I guess THAT aspect of the HOTR experience would be up to YOU, dear reader.)

After this bout of ocular bedazzlement and aural assault, the relative quiet of the Spirit of Aviation display comes as welcome respite. Most of the action in this small section is on the ceiling.

Which, unlike a lot of stuff at House on the Rock, makes perfect sense.

Don't be fooled, though. This breather, however brief, is just a tiny scoop of sorbet to cleanse your palate for an all-out attack on the senses. You'll have to wait until Part the Fifth, though.

Until then, a glimpse at the glory to come:

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

House on the Rock, Part the Third

After you have soaked up about as much off-key calliope music as you can handle, the tour deposits you in the huge three- or four-story hangar-sized structure that houses the Heritage of the Sea collection. This was, according to the literature, Alex Jordan's last effort on behalf of expanding the attraction, and it is a doozy!

The tour route hugs the inside perimeter of the building, rising to the top on catwalks that pass by displays of model ships. Many are intricate and fascinating to behold--real treasures. Take note of the one above for an example. And most of the ships and nautical paraphernalia on display in this section of the tour fit that description. It's just that there is often something a tad, well, off about the way in which the items are displayed.

Case in point:

Cool battleship model paired with floating sailor torso. Okey-dokey. But then, that's part of the charm of House on the Rock.

Don't get me wrong--plenty of the items on display are stunning. For example, this colorful example of scrimshaw:

Then there is the original poster, advertising the return voyage of the Titanic:

But alas! Then there is this nightmare inducer:

The dive of the living dead.

You may be asking yourself why the nautical displays only take up the periphery of this enormous room. Well, to accommodate the equally enormous sculpture of a whale-like creature locked in mortal combat with an oversized and blood-thirsty octopus, of course!

Here's the octopus (courtesy of House of the Rock):

And here is the whale-like beast:

There really is no way to capture the whole thing in a snapshot. You will just have to go there and see it for yourself!

Once you have left the catwalks of Heritage of the Sea behind, you begin a descent that will take you to the whirling, pulsing heart of House on the Rock... but more of that later. The route spirals downward past yet more collections--of marionettes,

of toy cars and trucks,

and of a jumble of real but quite dusty cars and buggies, including a Model T, an early '60s Lincoln Continental covered in tiny hexagonal tiles, and more. Oh yeah, and the hanging anthology of Burma-Shave signs, one set of which reads "He lit a match/To check gas tank/That's why they call him/Skinless Frank." Oh. My.

It is at this part of the tour that you reach the pizza stand (if you still have an appetite after envisioning poor flayed Frank) and the restrooms you've been aching to find since back in the Streets of Yesteryear section. Refresh, renew, and prepare to carry on in the next post.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

House on the Rock, Part the Second

Yesterday, I was going great guns, trying to catch up my novel word count, when I noticed that the broadband link was out on the modem. What followed was more than an hour on the phone with a nice lady in Bangalore, resetting and reconnecting the modem several times, until word came through to India that there was a local router problem in parts of Chicago. Argh. So, the upshot was I ended up writing only about 500 words last night, and tonight the muse has turned her back on me utterly... so I figured I'd flex my fingers at the keyboard anyway and post a second installment of our adventures at House on the Rock.

Once you have toured the house itself, the endless displays of crazy collectables begin. The photo above, taken near the entrance to the Mill House (the next part of the tour), only hints at the hangar-sized warehouses of stuff by which you are about to be overwhelmed.

The first themed area of interest is the Streets of Yesteryear section. It consists of brick pavement, concrete trees, flickering faux gaslights, and nostalgic storefront displays--and you haven't set a foot outside. Of course, one of the first windows--that of a toy store--contains a coffee klatch of creepy dolls:

There are a number of collections displayed as wares in various storefronts--Faberge eggs, clocks, apothecary equipment...

Interspersed amid the cluttered storefronts are various mechanical arcade tableaux from--I'm guessing here--the Gilded Age. You can get them to run by using one of the tokens available in vending machines throughout the attraction. (The music machines--more on the mother of all those in moment--are also run by inserting tokens into their coin slots.) Several of these illustrate the death of some kind of wastrel; this one is "Death of a Drunkard":

And this one is "Death of a Miser":

There's a magician and his assistants--this mechanical marvel from the mystic East performs a magic trick at the drop of token:

And I'm not sure what this one does (or even, really, what it IS)--we didn't expend a token on this one, but it does look intriguing.

And, true to form, there is yet another shop window full of o, so creepy dolls:

Then, suddenly, someone drops several tokens in a hulking machine at the far end of the Street[s] of Yesteryear, and the blaring splendor of THE GLADIATOR wheezes--I mean, blasts--forth!

Now, the effect of this cacophonous calliope has been dampened somewhat (I hate to be the one to report it!) due to its having been tuned up quite a bit since our last visit. In the past, this bellowing behemoth had been so out of key and its percussion elements so out of kilter that it was painful--but wondrously amusing--to hear. Alas! Someone has tinkered with perfection and brought its various components into some semblance of tonality and regular tempo. I'm sure that is only a temporary condition, though. Wisconsin winters are cold, and summers can be hot, and the building that houses Streets of Yesteryear and THE GLADIATOR is plenty drafty! It'll be back to its tone-deaf self in no time, I predict!

What can you expect in the next installment? The Heritage of the Sea, and beyond!

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Another Quick Update

Well, it's coming a little faster now. I'm not quite caught up, but I'm getting there. And I think I may just make it! I took Jeff's and Beth's advice to heart, which means I've been doing a lot less tweaking and a lot more writing. Much of it will probably never see the light of day, but at least for now it acts as a placeholder for what will ultimately replace it. The total word count right now stands just shy of 92,000, and I think 12,000 words or so more should wrap up the first draft, but I guess we'll see where we are on the 30th or thereabouts.

Here's the first paragraph in the latest batch:

Friday had presented Grace with such a flurry of assignments and errands that she had barely gotten a chance to stop the Karmann Ghia on her way through the drive through, much less chew her burger properly as she headed toward the Save Tees Mountain meeting. She hadn’t even gotten a chance to take a look at the review of Bierce’s show in the paper’s “Weekender” section. She was sure she had pulled it off without being offensive, either to Bierce or to the good citizens of Teesville; she had described “The Money Shot” with as much discretion and with as light a touch as she was able. So it was with some surprise that she entered the social hall of the Fourth Church of God in Christ to murmurs, raised eyebrows, and more than a few pointed stares.

And the last:

Grace put down her coffee mug, tossed The Atlantic on the sofa, and started dancing.

The usual caveat applies: This is first draft. And yeah. I know the last graph is a sentence. So damned what? Heh.


Monday, November 12, 2007

House on the Rock, Part the First

Jeff and I spent the first weekend in November in sunny but quite chilly Madison, Wisconsin. We took a side trip on Sunday to Spring Green and the incomparable House on the Rock. The first time I ever heard of this place was in that road trip bible, Roadside America, whose description and photos piqued my interest. It wasn't until I moved to Chicago--well within striking distance of this roadside must-see--that I enticed Jeff to come with me to take a look-see. And what a look-see it was!

Since then, we've returned a number of time to bask in its splendiferous oddity. I initiated pals Barb and Beth to its charms, and a few years later they brought their honeys, Charlie and Cortney, to experience the wonder.

So now, without further ado, let the tour begin!

The first thing you notice upon entering the property are a number of strange, bulbous planters, decorated with crazy snakes and lizards. These set the tone on the trek from your car to the lobby of the attraction. There, hints in the washrooms give you more of an idea of what you're in for. I don't know what is in the men's room, but the ladies' room is watched over by THIS tableau:

Dolls. Creepy, dead-eyed dolls. I'm not saying there are dolls EVERYWHERE on the tour. But they are a recurring theme...as you will see.

The sequence of the tour has been altered recently, so, unlike our previous trips, this one began with the Infinity Room. To get there, you have to trudge up a walkway that hugs the rock on which the house is built (hence, the name of the attraction).

This walkway affords a bird's-eye view of the construction that's currently underway--construction that includes a Japanese garden,

a new entrance complex and visitor center, and the like. As the founder of the feast (so to speak) has been dead lo, these many years, I'm not sure if there are any plans to add to the displays (although I wouldn't be surprised if the guy left several warehouses of collections behind that have yet to be catalogued).

At any rate, the walkway leads to the Infinity Room (photo courtesy House on the Rock):

Yes, indeed. The Infinity Room hangs out over Wisconsin's Wyoming Valley with nothing but Alex Jordan's engineering prowess to keep it up there. The view is lovely, especially at this time of year.

But if you are just a bit acrophobic, you probably want to stay near the entrance to the room. It's quite the thrill ride on a windy day!

From there, the tour proceeds to the house itself--the original attraction.

Alex Jordan, as the story goes, went to Frank Lloyd Wright (whose Taliesin is located only a few miles from HOTR) to ask if he could study architecture under him. Wright's apocryphal response: "I wouldn't hire you to design an outhouse!" So Alex decided to show him! He constructed an Asian-themed house atop a chimney of rock overlooking the rolling landscape of southwestern Wisconsin. In the early sixties, curious passersby began to inquire about the place. Could they see inside? Eventually, Alex started to charge admission so that the lookey-loos could gape their fill, and an attraction was born.

The house itself is a combination of the ridiculous and the absurd.

On the one hand, it has ugly plush pile on the built-in sofas and conversation pits--most of which would be right at home in a swingin' bachelor pad/makeout den of the period. It has shag carpet on the walls, throughout. And yet, it also has very cool touches, such as the layers of thick, tempered glass stacked here to form the wall of the room above. The glass edges are broken off irregularly, and some of the sheets extend out into the room to form shelves. It is a cool effect--one I wish I could figure a way to incorporate into our old condo...

As you can see, it's all pretty dark. That adds to the ambience of the place, I guess, but it also hides the fact that things there don't seem to be dusted all that often... But then, I think that having to dust the place might actually result in madness.

Also adding to the bachelor pad ambience is the mechanical chamber orchestra that plays Ravel's "Bolero" over and over and over again. (Beth, Barb, Charlie, and Cortney: It is with a heavy heart that I must break this to you: with the newly configured tour route, one is no longer able to hear "Bolero" past the "Gate House" section; no longer can one march in step with the music on one's way to the next part of the tour.)

One of the things I love about the original house is that it has some really, really lovely glass lighting fixtures in the Tiffany style, some of which are purported to be actual Tiffanies. This is my favorite:

Lest you think this is the extent of House on the Rock, I have to inform you that you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Next post.

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Still It Goes Slowly...

As you can see, it's still going slowly, but at least I managed to crank out more than a thousand words today. I think I just need to keep at it. It's like trying to get back up to distance after slacking off running for a while--you're just not going to be able to pull off five miles if you haven't even run one in a while. Well--you might be able to do it, but you will be very, very sore the next day!

Anyway, here's the first paragraph of the latest batch:

Friday had presented Grace with such a flurry of assignments and errands that she had barely gotten a chance to stop the Karmann Ghia on her way through the drive through, much less chew her burger properly as she headed toward the Save Tees Mountain meeting. She hadn’t even gotten a chance to take a look at the review of Bierce’s show in the paper’s “Weekender” section. She was sure she had pulled it off without being offensive, either to Bierce or to the good citizens of Teesville; she had described “The Money Shot” with as much discretion and with as light a touch as she was able. So it was with some surprise that she entered the social hall of the Fourth Church of God in Christ to murmurs, raised eyebrows, and more than a few pointed stares.

And here is the last:

Finally, she could not stomach reading another one. She gathered up the poisoned-pen letters she had already read, straightened them into a neat stack, and secured them with a rubber band. The remaining letters she carried in a heap out to the dumpster, even though she suspected that somewhere in the pile was a positive missive from Thayer. She had read enough for one day.

Sorry... no iridescent fish costumes this go-round! And, again, remember that this is first draft. Not honed, not crafted, not adequately revised. (Or even proofread!)

And I promise--I WILL post the first of several accounts of our recent respite (I use the word advisedly) at House on the Rock very soon. I have been sorting through and uploading photos, and it looks as if it will take several posts to do the place the justice it deserves!

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Writing Update

Fresh from a brief sojourn in Wisconsin, I'll have much more to regale you with in a few days once I have uploaded my snaps of House on the Rock, but I promised regular writing updates... Here we go:

That puts me, right now, at a couple of thousand words behind schedule. Sigh. I hope to catch that up in the next week or so. I didn't write anything in Madison this weekend, but I sure did read!

You may notice that, FINALLY, I have finished the ponderous (but nicely written and informative) Beatles bio. Then, within a day, I also finished a slim hardcover volume I purchased for a quarter at the latest rummage sale, Still Life with Chickens: Starting Over in a House by the Sea by Catherine Goldhammer. It was a quick read and I enjoyed it, although I got tired of the whole chickens as bridge to new life metaphor quite quickly. While we were in Madison, Jeff found a used copy of Edwin Mullhouse, and, since I had nothing more with me to read, I began that. Amusing and interesting so far.

Well, GW has asked for updates on the novel, so I thought I would offer the first paragraph and the last paragraph of the latest batch:


Bierce wandered in, resplendent in iridescent polyester scales, peering out of the gaping mouth of a huge fake and shimmering fish head.


On the other side of the plate glass, Grant sat at his keyboard, furiously worrying the eraser off of his latest pencil and tapping out his latest brainstorm of a headline: “City Art Lovers XXXasperated by Do-It-Yourself Show.” He chuckled and hit save.

Remember folks--this is first draft stuff!

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