May 232014

One of the weirdest, yet unique houses in America is near the small town of Spring Green, Wisconsin.  The House on the Rock has the world’s largest indoor carousel, as part of its bizarre themed collections.
View of House on the Rock
On top of a 60-foot tall column of sheer rock, Alex Jordan Jr. finished the house begun as one-upmanship by his architect father.  The house was purposely built near the famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s personal residence, Taliesin.

As the story goes, Alex Jordan Sr. was Frank Lloyd Wright’s biggest fan and hoped to get his idol’s approval for a building he had designed.  Wright told Jordan he “wouldn’t hire him to design a cheese crate or a chicken coop.”  While driving home in a huff from the fateful meeting, he planned this house that has become shrouded in myth and legend.

The Infinity Room contains thousands of windows and a glass panel in the floor, where visitors can look directly down into the valley.  It hangs out 218 feet from the house without supports underneath.
House on the Rock automated instruments
Some of these instruments actually play, but the string and woodwind sounds are produced by organ pipes.  The mechanically moving instruments create an illusion designed to fool and entertain visitors.
Angels and Carousel
Obviously his perceived masterpiece was never meant to become a museum.  Alex Jordan Jr. filled the home with oddities purchased or built, that reflected an eccentric and reclusive lifestyle.  This carousel features 269 animals, 182 chandeliers, 20,000 lights, and hundreds of mannequin angels hanging from the ceiling.
house on the rock mikado photo by Joseph Kranak
The Mikado is one of the animated, off-key musical machines with an oriental façade that Jordan designed.  I agree with a description that reads – “the House on the Rock is a manic mishmash of mechanical musty mayhem and sensory overload.”  We saw collections of ivory carvings, model sailing ships, dolls, knight’s armor, cars, British crown jewels, silverware, toy circuses, guns, cash registers, stained glass and lots more stuff.
house on the rock percussion 1
The House on the Rock left me overwhelmed and confused, after spending over five hours walking the winding pathways.  I found a book on Alex Jordan’s life, to better understand his passion for living with so many fakes that he passed off as real.

He was described as a combination of Howard Hughes and P.T. Barnum, rolled up into one masterful collector and architect.  As a child, he learned how to do magic tricks.  Growing up, he would sit in a corner and laugh about the way he fooled everyone.  His home became a masterpiece of illusion and imagination about places he never visited.

Although most people throughout the world have heard of Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, Jordan had the last laugh.  The House on the Rock is said to draw more visitors every year than any other spot in Wisconsin, including the nearby F. L. Wright’s Taliesin.

What’s the weirdest place you remember visiting?

Oct 142013

We didn’t expect to stumble upon a mystery on this scenic drive through California, from Portola to Oroville.  The road is forty miles of curves that follow the Feather River.  We stopped at a very picturesque spot to enjoy the panoramic view.  There were many huge rocks, but this rock held a life story needing to be told.Feather River Canyon memorial

I was beginning to think I would never solve the mystery of this plaque for Thaine Harrington Allison, Sr.  October,1915 – August, 1997,  “He was a decent man”.  There was no doubt when I found the name Thaine Harrington Allison, Jr. on Linkedin, he had to be related.  Thaine commented that in 16 years, I was the second person to ever ask about the plaque.  He was kind enough to share his dad’s story and here is an excerpt of why the family chose this rock for his memorial site.
Feather River Canyon Railroad Tracks“My parents met at a gas station in Kansas on May 2nd, 1938.  They married 17 days later and enjoyed their life together for just shy of 60 years.”

“They hitch-hiked their way to California and he found a job pouring buckets of concrete into the Los Angeles River, near Griffith Park.  That fall the rains came, which became known as the Great Flood Year.”

Feather River Railroad Crosses Over Road Bridge“He lost his job and my mom, pregnant with me, had to take the bus back to Kansas.  He then hitched a ride to be with his wife in Fort Scott.  They lived in an apartment that was a converted box car and he milked cows for a dollar a day.  Three years later they saved enough to move back, where he did construction work in the San Fernando Valley.  He eventually moved his family to a small farm in Northern California, where he built sewage and water treatment plants.”

“He was one of the original environmentalists, cleaning up sewage with the facilities that he oversaw as a construction superintendent.  Dad loved trains and knew the challenges of building railroad and highway bridges in this canyon.  He worked on the dam powerhouse that’s just a short distance from the location of his memorial.”

Feather River Canyon blog Mount Shasta“Mom was always specific about wanting her ashes spread on Mt Shasta, which she could see from her kitchen window.  Although he never said, we suspected he wanted his ashes released there too, but was afraid mom would say “find your own darn mountain, I put up with you for 60 years”.

Feather River Canyon Trestle“When it came time to find a place for his ashes, at one point mom said “Well, Pa always liked to drive. We could go over to I-5 and drive north.  With a hole poked in the bottom of the plastic bag, we could hang it out the window and turn around when it ran out.”
Feather River Canyon view
“My brothers and I agreed that we’d like a place where we could visit. His favorite spot on the Feather River to stop, seemed like the perfect place to reunite him with the earth.”

Feather River Canyon Rail Runs Under The Road Bridge “We always leave an orange, a beer and a pack of cigarettes when we visit this rock. The orange was his favorite Christmas gift, when he was a kid growing up in Iowa and Kansas during the depression. The beer was a bit of rebellion against my mom, who was a strict Women’s Christian Temperance Union Methodist. He smoked 2 ½ packs of Chesterfields a day for 45 years. At age 60, he gave up smoking.  Just in case he wanted to start again, he kept a half pack on top of the refrigerator.  That half pack of Chesterfields stayed there for 22 years.”

“He may not have been the most successful man, but was honest and generous with those he knew and cared about.  He wasn’t very good at expressing his love, yet we knew he deeply cared about us and is greatly missed by his three boys.”

What interesting mystery or story have you stumbled upon in your travels?

Enjoy links to other travel photos and stories on Travel Photo Discovery



May 222013

Almost 100 years ago, Albert Christensen began carving a home for his family out of this rock near Moab, Utah.  No, that’s not our Jeep in the upper left hand corner.  Just above the “C” is a 65 foot chimney for the fireplace.  The only natural light coming into the home, is from the windows in the three front rock openings.
Front view, Hole in the Rock
We had driven past this place many times and thought it was just a tourist trap.  Well it is, but we were also impressed to see how people actually lived in this big rock.

view of rooms, Hole in the RockWhat’s described as an “engineering marvel”, took 20 years to make this 5,000 square foot home.  Albert excavated 50,000 cubic feet of sandstone with his hand tools.

Fourteen rooms are arranged around these huge pillars.  The summer temperature never varies from a comfortable 72 degrees.

view of the artist's work, Hole in the Rock When Albert wasn’t carving rooms out of this sandstone rock, he painted religious and historic pictures.  He also taught himself taxidermy, when he found animals that didn’t survive the harsh winters.  We considered Albert to be very talented, but his mounted animals were weird.  His wife must’ve really loved him a lot, to allow these grotesque looking animals in her home.   view of the wife's doll collection, Hole in the Rock

After raising two boys, Gladys indulged in her feminine side by collecting dolls.  She displayed them in her pink carpeted bedroom.  At least her dolls could enjoy the elegant dresses she couldn’t wear in this desert environment.

To supplement their income, a large kitchen was carved out of the sandstone to serve dinners to travelers.  To make a deep fryer, Albert carved that out of sandstone too.

view of two rooms, Hole in the RockWe enjoyed our walking tour through the furnishings and tool displays of their life, as it would have been in the early 1900’s.

The Hole N’ The Rock was named by the National Geographic Traveler’s Magazine as one of the top 10 roadside attractions in the USA.  To encourage people to stop, the new owners added a gift shop and small zoo.  If you have ever wondered what living in a rock would be like, this is the place.  Also, visit this website: for more information.

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