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Armchair Field Trip: House on the Rock (read at your own risk)

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Wow. So I visited the House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wis., this weekend and it was easily the most frightening place I've ever been. And I only saw part of it. I guess I don't know what I was expecting"¦ Spring Green is the home of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin, so I suppose I was thinking of something more along those lines "“ a really architecturally interesting house. And I guess it was. But the architecture is overpowered by the enormous, bizarre collection of crap within its walls. My friend Mikaela described it as "a garage sale held by mental patients." It's a pretty fair assessment, except the stuff isn't for sale.

This is a hard article to write because it's difficult to describe exactly how horrifying, creepy and bizarre this place is. I can tell you all I want and be as descriptive as humanly possible and show you any number of pictures, and still it's not going to adequately portray the Creepy. But I will try.

First of all, you can take Tour 1, Tour 2, or the whole experience. We opted for Tour 1 because it contained "The Infinity Room" and we had been told this was not a room to miss. For your reference, though, Tour two contains the Music of Yesterday, the Spirit of Aviation, the World's Largest Carousel, the Organ Room, Inspiration Point and the Doll Carousels. Holy Crap, am I glad we picked Tour 1, because the Doll Carousels would have scarred me for life.

I'll combine the official descriptions with my descriptions"¦ I bet you can pick out which is which.

House on the Rock: House on the Rock sits atop a 60-foot chimney of rock called Deer Shelter Rock. It opened in 1960, where it has been terrifying the unsuspecting public ever since. This part of the house feels like a hobbit-hole - imagine rock ledges made into couches"¦ couches upholstered in shag carpet. Furnishings include oriental art, stained glass, bronze statuary, numerous Bauer and Coble lamps and a three-story bookcase filled with rare books. They don't warn you about instruments that play eerie tunes all by themselves and the random statues strategically placed to scare the crap out of you when you round a corner. The Infinity Room, the 14th room of the house, opened in 1985. This unique room projects out over the Wyoming Valley 218 feet and contains 3,264 windows. This room was cool until my friend Courtney jumped out at the far end and made the whole thing shake. I almost peed my pants. The top is the interior and the bottom is what it looks like from the outside.

infinity

The Gate House and the Mill House: Opening in 1961 and 1968 respectively, you will find all kinds of random crap in these wings of the house, including antique guns, dolls, mechanical banks, suits of armor and an enormous fireplace. Notice the giant bellows used as a display for an extensive paperweight collection. For your convenience, restrooms are located in this area. This is the restroom and my friend Lisa:

bathroom

This is some of the random "décor" in the Mill House. Why, I ask you, why?? Why all of the instruments that play themselves? I don't understand!!instruments

Oh, and this little gem was really disturbing. There are all kinds of machines that require you to insert a token to get them to work. We inserted a token into this machine called something like "The Death of a Drunkard" and this is what happened "“ first the drunk guy dying in bed raises his arms like a zombie. Then death pops up from behind the bed doing his best "TOUCHDOWN!" pose. Then a skeleton reveals that he's been hiding in the grandfather clock. Finally, we see that the drunkard's closet is actually a gateway to hell and the Devil arrives to pull him down into it. OH MY GOD.

drunkard

The tour continues into the Streets of Yesterday, which opened in 1971. It is a recreation if a typical 19th century main street where you can enjoy things such as opium, worm cakes, tapeworms and dolls. Lots and lots of dolls. You wouldn't want to be trapped in here at night.dolls

You will notice the lighting is dim in this area as it portrays an evening setting and casts everything in an extra-eerie light. As you go through this section, please view both sides of the room until you get to the Gladiator Calliope, the first of many large Music Machines. Once you get there, you will exit this area to your left and enter the Heritage of the Sea. If you haven't visited the restroom yet, we suggest you do so, because if your bowels are full when you enter the Heritage of the Sea, you will crap your pants.

The Heritage of the Sea opened in 1990. As you enter this area, your eyes are drawn to the 200 ft sea creature that is engaged in a titanic struggle with an enormous octopus. Yes, you read that right, a "200 ft sea creature engaged in a titanic struggle with an enormous octopus". It's really pretty impossible to get a picture of the titanic struggle, but believe me, I tried. I have an abnormal amount of pictures of this battle on my camera right now.

whale

The nice thing is that you follow a winding path up to the top of the building, so eventually you find yourself right in front of the mouth of the sea monster! Neat!!

mouth

That concludes Tour 1. Thank God. By this point, we had witnessed so many strange things and been inundated by weird music and noises, we were pretty much silent. Courtney was actually sick to her stomach. I think I developed a headache just writing about this. I should probably go lie down now.But before I go, let's hear from you. Have you been to the House on the Rock? Am I misunderstanding its genius? Or were you just as traumatized as I was? Should you feel the need to further deluge yourself with scary pictures, you can visit my blog or check out these pictures.

Previously on mental_floss...

"¢ Stacy's visits to The Corn Palace, The Grassy Knoll, The Texas State Fair and The Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast
"¢ Jason's trips to Old Faithful (not that Old Faithful) and Utah
"¢ Ransom's honeymoon in Portugal

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©noisytoy.net via Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-SA-4.0
The People of Texel Island are Professional Beachcombers
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©noisytoy.net via Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-SA-4.0

If you’ve ever tossed a message in a bottle into the ocean from anywhere in Northern Europe, it’s likely it ended up on Texel Island. Located off the North Coast of the Netherlands, Texel is at the intersection of several major currents, and close to several shipping routes. For the last 400 years, Texel residents have survived, in part, by scavenging items that have been lost at sea.

According to documentarian Sam Walkerdine in a piece for The Mirror, the practice has faded as other economic opportunities have opened up, but many residents still scour the beaches for lost items. One professional beachcomber, Cor Ellen, claims to have found over 500 bottles with letters inside—and has even answered some of them.

Ellen is one of the subjects of Flotsam and Jetsam (2012), Walkerdine’s 13-minute documentary on the Texel Island beachcombers (you can watch it above). In the film, a handful of Texel Islanders show off their best finds, and share their stories and strange observations. Ellen, for example, brags about scavenging crates of food, fur coats, powdered milk (“I didn’t have to go to the milkman for one year”), and even umbrella handles from passing cargo ships. Another beachcomber reminisces about finding something more personal: the collected photos and memorabilia of an English couple who had broken up and tossed their memories into the sea.

One of the weirder observations comes from Piet Van Leerson, whose family has been beachcombing for at least five generations: he claims that only left shoes wash up on Texel’s shores. The right shoes, meanwhile, end up in England and Scotland. (The shapes cause them to go in different directions.)

Beachcombing is such a big part of life on Texel, they’ve even opened several museums to show off their weirdest, funniest, and most interesting finds.

If you do decide to try and get a bottle with a letter in it to Texel, the residents have a few suggestions for you: drop the bottle somewhere off the coast of England, weigh it down with pebbles so it doesn’t get caught by the wind, and of course, remember to include a return address.

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YouTube / British Movietone / AP
A Film Tour of London in 1981
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YouTube / British Movietone / AP

Earlier this month, the Associated Press began releasing loads of archival video on YouTube. A large part of that collection comes from British Movietone, which has uploaded thousands of videos of all kinds, including many newsreels.

I have scrolled through countless pages of such videos—most without sound and/or extremely esoteric—and I finally discovered a 1981 gem, This is London. It's a sort of video time capsule for London as it was in the late 1970s and early 1980s, comprising plenty of stock footage of all the sights, royals, and ceremonies you can imagine.

If you've been to London, this is a great glimpse of what it once looked like. If you've never been, why not check out London circa 1981?

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