When I first read Neil Gaiman's American Gods, I was fascinated by his description of The House on the Rock. I had a dim memory of seeing billboards for it on road trips as a kid, but I wasn't surprised to learn that many people think it isn't a real place.
Neil Gaiman said in an interview, "A lot of people think I made it up, but I didn't. But what I did wind up doing in the book was tone it down a bit so people would believe it."
When I finally saw the episode of the American Gods TV show that took place at The House on the Rock, I knew it was time I planned a trip to see it for myself.
It worked out that my husband and I had free time over Independence Day weekend, so I booked a couple of nights at the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Spring Valley Inn, boarded the dog, and off we drove to Spring Green, Wisconsin.
It was a lovely trip in general and we also got the chance to visit Taliesin, but The House on the Rock was the true highlight of our vacation. It's almost impossible to describe how enormous and packed full of weirdness the place is.
Your visit begins with some beautiful gardens that seem pretty straightforward except that there are a lot of dragons.
But then you go in and encounter in room after room, building after building, a vast amount of artwork, antiques, collections and automata ranging from gigantic to extremely small.
There's the world's largest indoor carousel, which you can see pictured at the top of the post (and featured in a key scene of the aforementioned American Gods episode). It's absolutely breathtaking to walk through the door and see it.
Some areas have themes, like the nautical building that features a three-story-high leviathan being attacked by a proportionately large octopus.
There's one room with tables full of miniature circuses and another with seemingly endless doll houses. You'll also find entire orchestras of automata performing various songs via a combination of live percussive sounds mixed with some recorded music.
It's overwhelming to experience it all.
Deep down, it's the ultimate American tourist trap. The building of the original house began in 1945 and the exhibits have been accruing since then. Some are old and cool, but some just look dated. Not all of the moving parts still work. The artistry and craftsmanship within the collection ranges from amazing to...not so great.
Did I mention that it's not air conditioned? So maybe don't go in July.
Still, I am very glad we went. I have traveled a reasonable amount in my life, but this is the first time I can think of that I did it out of sheer curiosity. I liked planning an entire trip around seeing something I'd heard about and wanted to experience in person. In the future. I need to do that more often.