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Inside the Bizarre House on the Rock

American Gods season 2 brings the Old Gods to Wisconsin’s phantasmagorical roadside attraction known as the House on the Rock.

House on the Rock is the Meeting place of the Old Gods in Neil Gaiman’s American Gods

“So what is this place?” Shadow asks Wednesday in Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods as they approach the entrance of a building. The unremarkable facade described in the book conceals what is in real life one of the most surreal and often nightmarish places ever conceived. And it’s tucked away deep in the wild weird yonder of Wisconsin.

“This is a roadside attraction,” Wednesday tells Shadow. “One of the finest. Which means it is a place of power.”

“It’s perfectly simple,” Wednesday continues. “In other countries, over the years, people recognized the places of power. Sometimes it would be a natural formation, sometimes it would just be a place that was, somehow, special. They knew something important was happening there, that there was some focusing point, some channel, some window to the Immanent. And so they would build temples or cathedrals, or erect stone circles, or…well, you get the idea.”

Wisconsin is home to many places considered sacred and powerful by the indigenous people, like the mystic Devil’s Lake near Baraboo, or Green Lake, where every member of the Winnebago tribe was said to make a pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime to pay tribute to “the spirit who dwells beneath the water” in the depths of the state’s deepest natural inland lake. But for Gaiman’s Old Gods, including Mr. Wednesday, Easter, Bilquis, Jinn, Mad Sweeney, Czernobog, and others, the place they choose to meet is the bizarre and whimsical attraction known as the House on the Rock.

The House on the Rock is an ode to eccentricity and obsession, a twisting labyrinth of rooms filled with elaborate displays ranging from intricate reproductions of the Crown Jewels to a 200-foot-tall battle between a whale and a giant octopus. It was built upon a large sandstone formation overlooking the lush green valley below by Alex Jordan Jr., a man described by journalist Marv Balousek as “a shadowy figure as reclusive as the late multi-millionaire Howard Hughes.”

“When ‘Ripley’s Believe It Or Not,’ a prime-time network show, did a segment on the House, Jordan ignored multiple interview requests,” Doug Moe writes. “The show’s host ended the segment standing in front of the World’s Largest Carousel, a favorite House exhibit, and saying, ‘Thank you, Alex Jordan, wherever you are.’”

Balousek and Moe both wrote books about Jordan. Balousek’s book, House of Alex, was published in 1990, shortly after Jordan’s death. It was as an expose on the “true story of architecture and art, greed, deception and blackmail.” Soon after its publication, Moe was hired by the attraction’s new owner to produce an authorized biography that would be a bit gentler on Jordan’s legacy.

Moe interviewed many people close to Jordan, including some who worked for him for decades. He says they all described Jordan as “a complicated mix of hubris and shyness, cruelty and kindness.”

“There was a fire burning there,” Tom Kupsh told Moe in 2014. Kupsh worked at the House on and off since Jordan hired him as a sculptor in 1977, and also wrote a book about him called Never Enough. “You could be singed or you could be warmed. There wasn’t a lot of middle ground.”

Mythic and elusive, Alex Jordan himself could have been one of the American Gods.

Neil Gaiman and the American Gods at House on the Rock
Neil Gaiman and the Old Gods at House on the Rock

Even the lore surrounding the creation of the House is legendary.

The story seems to originate from a statement once made by Madison, WI artist Sid Boyum. According to Boyum, he accompanied the Jordans (Jr and Sr) for a meeting with a man they admired greatly – the one and only Frank Lloyd Wright. They supposedly met with Wright at his Spring Green, WI estate called Taliesin (where a brutal mass murder happened in 1914) to show off some blueprints for a building Jordan Sr. had designed in Madison. After looking at the plans, Wright is said to have told Jordan, “I wouldn’t hire you to design a cheese crate or a chicken coop.”

Angered, Jordan decided to spite Wright by building his architectural masterpiece just down the road from Taliesin.

The problem with this story, according to the  website, is that Boyum and Jordan Jr. were both less than 9 years old at the time the incident was said to happen (between 1914 and 1923), Wright was in Japan working on the Imperial Hotel from 1916 to 1922, and the building Boyum claims Jordan Sr. showed Wright was actually designed by another architect altogether and built in 1923.

Boyum, it seems, invented the story because he thought Jordan should be “more like PT Barnum.”

Down the Devil's throat in the House on the Rock
Photo: Photo Phiend

Though the story is untrue, the House does have an overtly defiant atmosphere. Every detail of the House, its very existence, seems to be thumbing its nose at the improbable and illogical.

“Though most people outside of the Midwest have never heard of it, the House on the Rock is said to draw more visitors every year than any other spot in Wisconsin,” author Jane Smiley wrote in 1993. “Also in the Wyoming Valley, but on top of a huge monolith, the House on the Rock reveals the spirit of its builder, Alex Jordan Jr., to be as single-minded and eccentric as Wright’s, but in substance almost absurdly opposed.”

Jordan discovered Deer Shelter Rock in the early 1940s and began having picnics upon its 75-foot-tall peak. Eventually he decided to bring a tent and started camping there. But then, one night, his tent blew away and he decided he needed something more permanent. Fortunately, he had some experience working for his father in construction.

House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin
House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin

Jordan began carrying materials up the rock to build the House before he even owned the land. He first built what he described as a shack, which he tore down and rebuilt. He called the next incarnation The Winter Room, which he used as a private studio retreat. He added 12 more rooms in the following years, never with any kind of plan. He followed the natural contours of the rock, exploring new ideas and methods. If something wasn’t working, he would tear it down and try something else.

“In the beginning it was all just a pile of rock up there – rocks and trees,” Jordan said in a rare interview. “We left everything as it was, worked around it, worked with it – that’s part of the beauty of the place.”

Jordan’s work didn’t go unnoticed.

“As curiosity grew surrounding his project, Alex became somewhat irritated,” the website says. “Alex decided he was going to charge people 50 cents to visit, thinking that would drive them away; however, people gladly paid the fee. In 1960, Alex decided to open the House on the Rock to the public. This increased the interest and the crowds grew. All of the money taken in over the years was put directly back into the House on the Rock. Alex had no other source of income.”

Inside the House on the Rock
Photo: Justin Kern

Jordan’s dream for the House evolved to include more than the dim, labyrinthine, Japanese-style structure he first built atop the rock. His eclectic interest drove him to collect art and strange objects from around the world. But when that wasn’t enough, he hired artists to help to create the obsessive collections he desired. That’s when things got really strange.

Today, the House is a twisting complex of bizarre spaces and unique collections. There are entire rooms filled with orchestras of out-of-tune self-playing instruments, and a horse-drawn hearse with a music machine inside where coffins would have resided. There is the Streets of Yesterday, an immersive recreation of an old time main street complete with houses, shops, a sheriff’s office with an outlaw’s head in a jar, and, of course, a massive calliope parked in the street. There is the Infinity Room that juts out 218 feet from the house unsupported, and you can feel it sway at the tip. There are arms and armor, macabre coin-operated dioramas from the 1800s, a massive ship engine in the Organ Room, a steam-powered hearse, miniature circus dioramas, dollhouses, and other curiosities that are either genuine antiques or reproduced by Jordan’s team in excess.

And there is the carousel – the largest indoor carousel in the world. It boasts 269 animals (none of which are horses), 182 chandeliers, 20,000 lights, and is the portal in American Gods to another dimension where the Old Gods meet.

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Writing in the woods. Pretty happy.

A post shared by Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) on

Gaiman, a part time resident of Menomonie, WI since 1992, wrote American Gods at a lakeside cabin about 20 minutes from his home.“I couldn’t have written it without living in Wisconsin,” he told the Star Tribune. “There’s that tiny off-kilter nature in the Midwest that’s in the details.”

Gaiman kicked off his American Gods 10th anniversary tour with a Gathering of the Gods event that took place at the House on the Rock over Halloween weekend of 2010. Cult contributor J. Nathan Couch was in attendance. Costume contest winners had the truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ride the carousel with Gaiman.

“The House on the Rock is a real place about an hour west of Madison Wi, that I write about in American Gods,” he wrote on his website when he announced the event, “and I had to tone down my description of it and leave things out in the book in order to make it believable.”

Coin-operated fortune teller at the House on The Rock
Wednesday tells Shadow they must “consult the Norns,” getting a fortune from the coin-operated fortune teller in the Streets of Yesterday.

American Gods filmed the House on the Rock scenes for season 2 on location in May of 2018.

“The House On The Rock is unlike anything else on the planet. If you are filming at The House On The Rock, you’re actually filming at The House On The Rock,” Gaiman told Vanity Fair. “In order to do some of the sequences in the book that we plan to do on the screen justice, we knew we were going to be taking several episodes to do it, and shooting whatever we get to shoot at the actual House On The Rock was going to make everybody’s life easier.”

“When you read Neil’s description of it in the book, you think it can’t possibly be weirder seeing it in person,” Orlando Jones, who plays the trickster God Mr. Nancy, said. “But it far surpasses his description. That’s insane, because I didn’t think that was possible.”

Ricky Whittle, who plays Shadow Moon, said, “As spectacular as it’s going to look on the screen, I still don’t think we’ve done it justice. It’s incredible.”

Mr. Shadow, Wednesday, and the other Old Gods come to the House on the Rock in American Gods season 2
Wednesday, Shadow, and the rest of the Old Gods come to the House on the Rock in American Gods season 2

Jordan never lived in the House, though he and his lifelong love interest Jennie Olson were known to throw “legendary parties” there. He and Jennie lived in small adjoining apartments in a Madison building owned by his parents.

Jordan died in 1989, a year after he sold the House to a friend. Upon his request, his ashes were spread over the creation he spent his life dreaming and building.

The House on the Rock is indeed a place of power. And madness. And wonder. And it’s hard not to fall in love with it.

American Gods Season 2 Teaser

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Bizzare & Odd

Video shows mysterious lights in sky over Tucson, Arizona

© Via Twitter@ese_zea

12 News

You may have heard of the Phoenix Lights, mysterious lights in the sky that sparked speculation and even documentaries over the years. Now, Tucson may have had its own version of the phenomenon.

A video posted to Twitter and viewed more than 13,000 times shows mysterious lights in the night sky in an area just south of the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

The video, taken shortly before 10 p.m. Tuesday, shows a string of reddish lights in the sky move slightly before blinking out. Below, three evenly spaced lights shine in a horizontal line. Isaiah Alvarez, who shot the video, said these lights became very bright and left.

Alvarez said he often sees strange things in the sky in that area; this was just the first time he was able to catch it on video.

A spokesperson for Davis-Monthan Air Force Base said they are not aware of anything that would cause the strange lights.

Unidentified, check. So we may have ourselves a UFO here. The question is: Are these lights truly out of this world?

Take a look at the video for yourself and see what explanations you can come up with.

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Bizzare & Odd

Impossible Foods Is Trying to Make Fake Fish Now

Fishy Smell

Impossible Foods, the meatless meat company behind the plant-based Impossible Burger you’ve probably seen at trendy gastropubs, is moving into the fake fish market.

The company is reworking its recipe for plant-based beef to recreate a fishy flavor and texture, according to The New York Times. The move makes Impossible Foods the latest to enter the race to develop convincing and tasty artificial fish, either through concoctions of plant proteins or lab-grown cells.

Dirty Water

Replacing fish with fake meat could benefit the environment, as fisheries pollute and deplete wild populations of some species, per the NYT. But that may not drive customers to buy filets from Impossible Foods or any of the other companies working on fake fish — much of the boon for the fake beef market came from people who were worried about the health impacts of eating too much red meat.

“A lot of people will simply say if you eat meat, you’re increasing your risk of cancer,” Tom Rees, a food industry expert at the market research firm Euromonitor International, told the NYT. “There isn’t an equivalent of that for fish.”

READ MORE: The Fish Is Boneless. (Fishless, Too.) [The New York Times]

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Bizzare & Odd

NASA records a strange formation of clouds on Mars

According to a new study conducted by a team at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder), the formation of clouds in the thin atmosphere of Mars are caused by meteors.

formation of clouds

The “meteor smoke,” which is the icy dust that remains when a meteorite burns in the atmosphere of Mars, is what partially creates the cirrus-like clouds that are placed about 18 miles above the surface of the planet.

Since the clouds here on Earth are made up of particles, like dust grains or sea salt, which are transported into the air by the wind and then the water molecules condense around them, which causes the clouds to form and grow up.

Mars, on the other hand, barely has floating particles, since the atmosphere is very thin. But when small meteors enter the atmosphere of Mars, they often burn, creating fine dust or “meteorite smoke,” which are the necessary particles for clouds to develop.

The Earth has noctilucent clouds that are created from the dust of meteors and are seen at an altitude of about 50 miles in the atmosphere. After the sun sets on the Earth, the clouds still reflect sunlight, so they can be seen shining bright blue.

While meteor dust helps create Martian clouds, the thin atmosphere only allows certain types of clouds to form. The clouds are usually very faint and resemble pieces of cotton, very similar to the cirrus clouds of Earth.

“But just because they are thin and can not really be seen, it does not mean they can not have an effect on the dynamics of the climate,” said Victoria Hartwick, a graduate student at CU Boulder.

formation of clouds

In fact, temperatures at the same height as clouds could fluctuate warmer or colder at 18 degrees Fahrenheit. According to Brian Toon, who is a professor at CU Boulder:

“More and more climate models are discovering that the ancient climate of Mars, when rivers flowed through its surface and life could have originated, warmed with high-altitude clouds. It is likely that this discovery will become an important part of that idea to warm Mars. “

While Martian clouds are too weak and the atmosphere is too thin to produce rain, snow fell near the North Pole in 2008 and was witnessed by the Phoenix Mars Lander.

Frost and fog have also been seen on the red planet due to a water cycle that occurs even without water on the surface and an extremely thin atmosphere.

No doubt the red planet in its past could have life, but it should be noted that this discovery makes the idea that Mars is terraforming so that there may be optimal conditions in the upper part of the planet for life, in the way that we know her.

It should be noted that by official means it is known that there is life inside, but deny that there is life at the top. What’s your opinion about it? Watch the following video and leave us your comment below.

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