Madison delights and surprises

Lysa Allman-Badwin | 7/18/2013, 3:10 p.m. | Updated on 7/18/2013, 3:10 p.m.
I hope you are enjoying this travel series on Madison, Wis. So far, we’ve delved into the city’s early history, ...

A visit to Taliesin would definitely be a highlight of any visit to Madison.

Awe and whimsy at House on the Rock

It’s amazing. It’s weird. It’s inspiring. It’s a little bit creepy. But it all just goes to show what one man or woman’s passions—or neurosis—can bring to fruition. This is theHouse on the Rock (www.thehouseontherock.com).

There are actually three parts to this destination: the attraction; the inn, a family-friendly retreat; and the resort, an upscale accommodation with a spa and 27-hole championship golf course.

The main attraction is the creation of Alex Jordan Jr., who, in the 1940s, happened upon a 60-foot chimney of rock in the sandstone of the Wyoming Valley, where he decided to build a home as a weekend retreat. The 14-room home was so odd—its composition, architecture and location—that people started coming by, asking for a better look.

Jordan, a brilliant visionary and unemployed loner who lived in a dinky apartment in Madison, was nonetheless somewhat of an astute businessman who evenutally figured out that by charging an entrance fee—50 cents at the time—he could finance his dream, which, over the years, grew into a massive complex encompassing several buildings, exhibits, garden displays and more.

To say “seeing is believing” is really an understatement, but an apt description of this place where visitors—like myself—walk around in utter amazement and sometimes sheer disbelief at all that you find here. In 1960, Jordan officially opened the property to visitors, then, in 1988, he sold it to a family because of his failing health. He died the following year. So, the property is really a joint collaboration between Jordan’s work, purchases and donated items.

The place is so expansive and there are so many things to see that moving through the property at a brisk pace takes about 3 hours! Therefore, some people come over for a couple of days or in the morning just to take it all in. The collections are just unreal, with my honorable mentions including the Infinity Room in the Main House—a 218-foot long cantilever with 3,263 windows as walls that stretch over the towering treetops below; the Streets of Yesteryear in the Mill House, the world’s second largest collection of music machines, many of which are set to play automatically (my mouth and eyes were wide open the entire time!); and the world’s largest indoor carousel, featuring more than 20,000 lights, 182 chandeliers and 269 handcrafted carousel animals, not one of which has a horse head on it!

The main point of it all is that Jordan desired to create something where sight and sound would have a profound effect on the senses, and boy, did he accomplish that! Eclectic, exotic, unusual, weird, amazing and gigantic, the House of the Rock is another Madison must-see!

All the World’s a Stage

Theater-lovers would thoroughly enjoy the American Players Theatre, also in Spring Green. Boasting an annual attendance of more than 100,000 people, the theater ranks as the country’s second largest outdoor theater devoted to the classics.