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by Eric Hendrixson
The House on the Rock is an architectural anomaly, a spectacle, an autobiography in clutter, and a museum of hoarding. It holds vast, unrelated collections of of artifacts, some of them authentic. It is said to be the most popular tourist destination in Wisconsin.
As you enter, there is a small museum dedicated to the man who made this happen: Alex Jordan, Jr. A college dropout, Mr. Jordan enjoyed picnicking on Deer Shelter Rock, a towering rock formation near Spring Green, taking a hibachi and a gallon of Tom Collins with him on each trip. When challenged by the land owner, he leased the area for his picnics, eventually purchasing the rock.
After building a platform on the rock, he decided to build a Japanese-style house on it. He decided this having never been to Japan, probably never having seen a Japanese house. The first section of the self-guided tour is through the home he built without a blueprint or any architectural experience. The house is like something a Frank Loyd Wright impersonator would have designed during a drunken weekend, the floor plan resembling a cavern more than a house. While Johnson was well over six feet tall, the ceilings would be low for hobbit hole. The building resembles a stone treehouse that has grown wild. Live trees grow through the walls. It is decorated with dolls, oriental artifacts, kitchenware, stained glass, and self-playing instruments, including a banjo, tambourines, and a player piano that plays Aerosmith’s Dream On slightly out of tune.
The house climaxes with the Infinity Room, a tapering, unsupported structure that hangs over the valley like a wood and glass diving board in a creaking, vertigo-triggering homage to insane design. The house is only the first section of the tour. The second and third sections are larger buildings dedicated to this local eccentric’s collections.
The second section starts with a mill house, complete with a working waterwheel that turns only itself. The visitor then sees a number of glass cases, showcasing a collection of completely unconnected items, including a flintlock rifle with three locks but only one barrel, massive stores of colored glassware, locally-produced medieval armor and weapons, self-playing musical instruments, and animatronic displays. Because the exhibits are not labeled, identified, justified, or explained, they resemble a bunch of stuff more than a curated museum.
The tour continues through a replica old-timey Main Street—complete with ridiculously complete collections of the kinds of items each business on the street would have, coin operated nickelodeons, and animatronic fortune tellers. The dim lighting gives a twilight effect throughout the tour.
by Eric Hendrixson
As midnight approached, we were far from the highway, on the kind of country road that starts a third of the horror films made in the ’80s. That’s when the GPS signal dropped out. My wife hadn’t told me where we were going. When we decided to take a trip, I’d hopped into the car like a Labrador who doesn’t know whether he’s going to the park or the vet. We drove through Dodgeville, up a hill, and past a tractor dealership. Near the top of the hill, I saw a Boeing C-97 parked next to the road. We had reached our destination.
Don Q Inn advertises its rooms as Fantasuites. The website claims that these suites will “spice up your stay.” We walked through the heavy wood doors into the lobby, where barber and dentist chairs were arranged around a huge, circular fireplace. On the counter, there was a lending library of VHS tapes and Stephen King books. According to a sign in the lobby, the hotel does not permit children, only consenting adults over 21. That was fine. Apart from a few business trips, I have never rented a hotel room without my consent. When the clerk woke up and came to the desk, we asked her what restaurants might still be open. She yelled the question back to another clerk. “McDonald’s,” she said. “And Walmart.” She gave us keys and directions to our room.
Our room was at the end of the hall, next to an emergency exit that led directly into a cornfield, making it useless in the event of a corn-related emergency. When I opened the door, I saw a spaceman suspended above the room’s only window, which was draped with black curtains. The walls were covered in a wallpaper mural of the moon’s surface and black space, accented with comets, stars, and planets. A Formica moon rover served as a coffee table. There was a rock formation on the left side of the room, from which a moon rock waterfall fed the tile-lined tub in the crater. Above it all was a Gemini space capsule, accessible by a spiral staircase built into the rock. In the space capsule, there was a circular bed, complete with a TV/VCR, a car radio, and switches that controlled the lights and ceiling fan. It was the bedroom I would have wanted when I was five, twenty-five, or thirty-five. It’s the bedroom I will want when I’m ninety-five.
Each of these fantasy suites is its own work of art. The subjects include a ’50s theme with a pink Cadillac, an igloo, a hot air balloon, and a medieval dungeon, complete with shackles. Is it good art? Well, probably not. The rooms are like a plastic Halloween costume of Spider Man that says “Spider Man” on the front. It’s not so much a moon landing as a collection of the signifiers of a moon landing.
As for the business model of catering to sexual fantasies, I’m a believer in Rules 34 and 36. I’m sure there are people out there with a moon landing fetish, but there can’t be that many of them in Wisconsin. They must have all moved to Florida by now. The fantasy aspect is beside the point. As a bizarro, former dinner theater worker, and B movie fan, the diligent, sincere, overdone, and wrong-headed manner in which this fantasy was constructed and presented pleased me immensely.
The hotel has a tunnel between the rooms and the restaurant, decorated like a carnival spookhouse with spiderwebs, portraits that change to skulls as you walk past them, and body parts stuffed into corners. Finding the restaurant closed, we crossed the road toward a roadside bar with a motorcycle and a few pickup trucks parked outside. There, we had local beer, cheese curds (the staple of the Wisconsinite diet), a couple games of pool (free ever since someone broke the sliding coin acceptor), cookies (because someone brought cookies), and conversation with the locals, mostly about how many shots Thor, the designated driver, should get in exchange for driving the others back to town. In the morning, we drove to our real destination: The House on the Rock.
Check back soon for PART TWO of Eric Hendrixson’s Bizarro Field Trip featuring The House on the Rock with creepy-cool photos!
Eric Hendrixson was born a military brat overseas. He has lived in England, Texas, Spain, Texas, Iowa, Texas, and Virginia. Attending two kindergartens, two elementary schools, five junior high schools (one twice), two high schools, and two colleges, he learned that most realities are hypothetical and are merely intended as suggestions. His first job, in musical theater, confirmed that lesson.
My darling children, and the thoroughly compromised grown-ups you seem inevitably fated to become:
For close to twenty years, some joker named Robert Devereaux has been chronicling my life. There were things he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.
Lately, he’s gone into my attempt to fix the horrendously flawed human psyche. Did that attempt succeed? I won’t spoil your fun by telling you.
I asked Robert (I always think of the once adorable little tyke, one of the damnably nice boys, as Bobby) to say a few words about his most recent attempt. Here’s Bobby’s reply to his readers:
“Lately, I’ve been trying to save the world through my novels. So far I have failed. I expect to continue failing. On that score I harbor very few illusions. Still, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a world changer. Abraham Lincoln is reported to have greeted Harriet Beecher Stowe with: ‘So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.’ And Huckleberry Finn, in which Huck conceals runaway slave Jim while fully expecting to go to hell for it, remains an inspiration. Then there’s Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle , which brought reform to Chicago’s meat-packing industry.
“Fifteen months ago, my wife died of ovarian cancer at the age of sixty-one. In her two and a half year decline, I heard her say more than once that if cancer finally took her life, at least she wouldn’t have to live through the disasters the human race seems unable to prevent, such power have we given those who put boundless greed over our and the planet’s survival.
“Do I sound bitter? Bitter I be. And bitter shouldst thou be. So kindly shrug into your leaden cloak of bitterness, yoke it across your shoulders, and join the parade of the damned.
“Twain, quite the curmudgeon in later years, wrote this: ‘Why is it that we rejoice at a birth and grieve at a funeral? It is because we are not the person involved.’
“And so, via Mark Twain’s bitterness and a world whose inertia is tending toward irreversible ruin, we arrive at Santa Claus Saves the World, part three of my Santa Claus Chronicles. Saint Nick is given the chance to reengineer the human psyche, to fix God’s botched job before it’s too late, hoping to outrace a critical tipping point.
“This being fiction, there are, of course, opposing forces, not the least of which is God Himself. Also active are the Tooth Fairy, her imps Quint and Gronk, the harrumphing elf Gregor, and Venga, a fallen golden robotic handmaiden of the Greek god Hephaestus.
“As I researched this book, I began making lists of human flaws. Let me tell you, those lists are unending. I have been kind to my readers. I have not tried to include every last flaw in my novel. We all know what they are. And it would have been so hard on the trees.
“No, let the token few I name suffice.
“On a happier note . . . hmmm, what could have I been thinking when I began this sentence? There is no happier note.”
Yes, sweet kiddies. I caught the author in a foul mood. But moods come and go, as you well know. He’s a jovial sort usually, and that joviality is as genuine as his despair.
That’s about it. Must get back to supervising our toy production and the planned delivery on Christmas Eve.
Don’t forget the milk and cookies, if you’re so moved. These days, I’m into almond milk and gluten-free cookies. But carrots are still fine for my reindeer. And any little note you care to leave. I love your notes—and you—to death!
The jolliest of ho-ho-ho’s to you and yours,
Santa Steps Out
Santa Claus Saves the World
Written by Cameron Pierce and illustrated by Jim Agpalza, this is the first book in Sinister Grin Press’s Lockjaw bizarro line and is limited to 100 hard cover copies.
Written by Wonderland Book Award-winning author Cameron Piece and fully illustrated by Jim Agpalza, Fantastic Earth Destroyer Ultra Plus is a bizarro epic that’s as beautiful as it is bleak.
“Hot Rod Worm! It’s what’s for breakfast!” – John Skipp