A Visit to the House on the Rock

A Visit to the House on the Rock

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Guest post by Micah Kenfield

I recently had the chance to tour the House on the Rock outside Spring Green, Wisconsin.  Though not especially well known outside of the Midwest (outside of its placement in American Gods by Neil Gaiman), the location serves as one of the more popular tourist destinations in the region.  The House on the Rock currently stands as the culmination of a lifetime of effort from a truly historic (and eccentric) maker named Alex Jordan.

The full tour of the House on the Rock winds through over two miles of artifacts that Jordan created and collected, ranging from classic cars and replica Tiffany lamps to the world’s largest carousel and a whole suite of animatronic musicians and self-playing musical instruments powered by a complex series of wires, cables, and motors.

The music machines, in many ways, are the most impressive part of the experience.  This is one of the largest in the house:

In the clip above, you can see the percussion and chimes pretty clearly “playing themselves” through the motors.  The drums are perfectly synced up with the music, and the chimes play the melody perfectly, every day, as they have for years.  The clip is just one example of the dozens of scenes acted out through puppets and motors throughout the house (ranging from elementary magic tricks to some rather macabre tableaus featuring literal skeletons in the closet). The site itself is really amazing, and worth checking out.

What was even cooler to me than the exhibits themselves, though, was seeing the reaction of many of the children who were touring the House the same day I was.  A frequent refrain throughout the day was “Mommy, how do the machines play the music” or “Dad, how does that work?”  I could definitely sense that there are generations of children leaving this place with a greater curiosity of how the world works.  If the children I met are anything like I was when I was their age, I imagine they’re also looking forward to getting home and trying to recreate the magic (be it with Lincoln Logs, Lego, or Arduino).

The visit got me thinking (in honor of summer, the season of family road trips) – whether you’re personally interested in making or you’re fostering a continued interest of a child in the subject, what are some of the other destinations that can help spark the creative and making impulse?  Touring Edison’s labs? A local science center? A museum makerspace, such as the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry’s Fab Lab? Comment below or tweet at us to share your favorites!

Micah Kenfield is an alumnus of the University of Houston, and has carried a deep love of making and tinkering with him since he put together his first model rocket at the age of six. He can be reached at mckenfield@gmail.com.


Image Credit: “House on the Rock” by Flickr user Robin Zebrowski

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