New York to Black Moshannon to Chicago to Motel 6, at last we reach House on the Rock. Prior pilgrims and the internet cannot prepare you, nor any supply of establishing shots. Why did wealthy, artist–eccentric Alex Jordan collect these things, build these bent fantasies, automaton musical instruments and fake antiques? Elaborate doll houses and carved whale teeth? Winged mannequins and eye-popping carousels passed off as whimsy but it’s spooky, it’s a wet bed, nightmare fuel in machine-shed warehouses nestled in the dells of Wisconsin.
“This was his dream,” a woman chides her husband who looks baffled and disgusted, collapsed on a couch in a claustrophobic room. “This is what he wanted to do.”
A shaky truth inside rebuke: Desire this wild, this intense and detailed excises the requirement to answer for it.
How could you question such a thing?
Arthur had experienced House on the Rock before. He kept mum on the comings up and held my hand through most of it.
Some of the displays were eye-candy quiet, like this wall I found in the toilet.
But we also witnessed a crime scene,
the vials and pills that couldn’t kill pain,
a steam-engine hearse to take the corpse the distance,
a carriage for the fancy dead just down the way.
Then all heaven and hell broke loose, menageries, too, as we plugged in tokens to watch the rooms move, the chairs playing their violins hooked to wires and tubes,
carousels spinning much too fast thousands of lights and vacant looks.
This was his dream.
To dream is to deserve everything.
But who is this procession for, this mad, surreal parade?
Us. Of course.
Our wonder and horror complete the vision.
Giving our gaze to give it meaning.
Even if we don’t believe it’s happening.
Holding hands for tenderness and terror.