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The Design Issue 2004

Bad Trip

There is a place in Deer Shelter Rock, Wisconsin, which is so terrifying that going there stoned (which I just did) is the equivalent of, say, doing acid and watching The Shining by yourself in a cabin in fucking Romania.

VICE pictures by Angela Strassheim

There is a place in Deer Shelter Rock, Wisconsin, which is so terrifying that going there stoned (which I just did) is the equivalent of, say, doing acid and watching The Shining by yourself in a cabin in fucking Romania. It's called The House on the Rock, but they may as well just change its name to Shit-Pantsville. A completely insane and brilliant man named Alex Jordan started making it in 1946, after dropping out of medical school, driving a cab, and working at an ammunition factory (in that order). Then he decided to devote his life to designing this mental institution of a dream home. It was supposed to be just that too—a home. Not a public attraction. Local legend says that he lugged the masonry stone up the hill the house sits on in wicker baskets strapped to his back. Oh yeah, and he just totally winged the fucker, building as he went on without a written plan. The museum portion of the House on the Rock (he also considered naming it Castle in the Sky or Casa del Roche) is a collection of collections. Alex Jordan was obsessed with acquiring complete assemblies of other people's interests, then packing them wholesale into the House on the Rock. Wandering through this building is like being inside an LSD-splattered version of Disneyland, complete with menacing animatronic robots, a HUGE fucking sculpture of a sea monster, an entire Americana-informed replica neighborhood, and miles of RANDOM SPOOKY SHIT. Look at that picture of the robot-mannequin orchestra over there. Do you have any idea how disturbing that is in person? The whole room even smells like old dust. Not that Alex Jordan would have cared that I (and countless toddlers and little girls) are scared of his life's work. He used to get so annoyed by people coming to check the place out that in 1959 he started charging 50 cents to get in. This only made people want to see it more. If it cost money, it had to be good. Look, I'm not saying you shouldn't go to the House on the Rock. You should go. It is one of the most singularly designed buildings in America, and the sheer mass of stuff inside it will leave you feeling like you just got that thing they do in science fiction books where they inject knowledge right into your brain. I'm just a huge pussy is all. When I was a kid I was even afraid of that moon face Jackie Gleason thing in the opening credits of The Honeymooners. You, though—you'll probably love it there.

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