A Spin on Accessibility: Wheeling Through a House of Oddities
In our free time together, my partner, Andy, and I enjoy adventuring.
I’m not talking about the classic mammoth-sized endeavors represented by the swingin’ satchels of Indiana Jones or the sun-faded explorer hats of Josh Gates. What I refer to as “adventure” is a mindset of how I choose to greet the day. This usually involves tolerable stretches of travel depending on my fatigue level, but I find these outings exhilarating, nonetheless. Anyone can have an adventure at any time by choosing to see the world around them through bright eyes rather than by taking a dim perspective.
On a glimmering spring day, we may decide to explore the outdoors. Perhaps we’ll hike a tried-and-true accessible trail, or scope out an accessible pathway to an awe-inspiring waterfall. Some of the most beautiful, barrier-free gems we’ve discovered are those we’ve stumbled upon through our research of the region.
We had planned an adventure one spring day. However, the air was shrouded in a damp, gray cloak thwarting the sunbeams from warming our skin. Rainy days, outdoor trails, and power wheelchairs do not make for a fun combination. Instead, we settled on an indoor excursion.
In all of my years living in Wisconsin, I’d never visited the House on the Rock. Truthfully, I’d been afraid. Some revere the location as a multifaceted jewel of eccentric architecture, culture, and art. Others describe it as a ghastly display of delirium. Either way, we knew we were leaping into the crevices of madness.
As we set out on the two-hour drive toward the village of Spring Green, the roads wound closer to the eastern fringes of Wisconsin’s Driftless Region — an area untouched by the ancient migration of glaciers. Towering bluffs loom over jagged river valleys, stacked high in a palette of sandstone smears with a base layer of lush green earth. The trees were naked with buds ornamenting their rigid branches; a sense of renewed life abounded the dense forest ridges. Even a gray day cannot dampen the beauty of the Driftless Region. It remains seated in grace, proud of its whimsical features.
The House on the Rock was dreamt up and built by Alexander Jordan Jr. The tourist attraction is situated near Taliesin, the famed estate of iconic architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Upon a mighty rock, Jordan’s imagination churned as he began to craft his house in 1945, eventually opening the colossal wonder to the public in 1959.
I happen to love the topic of accessibility. But I didn’t know what to expect from a place that was built in the mid-20th century. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Just one section of the complex is inaccessible to wheelchairs — and to compensate for this, we were given discounted tickets. The venue’s website has one helpful caveat: “Other areas have uneven surfaces and ramps that may be difficult to maneuver.” I buckled up. What a wild ride this was going to be.
We meandered across concrete ramps that framed the peaceful Japanese gardens. The entry door ahead stood aglow with an electric-blue light softly illuminating ornate iron bars — it looked like a castle door, and the loud groan bellowing from its hinges assured us that it was.
Stone walls and crimson carpeting enveloped the passages (at times, we saw shag-carpeted walls and stone floors). Themed displays lined the pathway, from eerie witches’ cauldrons to macabre statues. Wide-eyed in hazy lighting, I looked up at Andy and blurted, “I think this is the factory where my nightmares come from.”
The exhibits were distinctive. We ventured the Streets of Yesterday, peering into shop windows to catch glimpses of strange moments frozen in time. Monstrous sea creatures stormed the scene in the Heritage of the Sea. We soared to great heights in the Spirit of Aviation. Along the way, I fed tokens to Esmeralda, the fortune-telling enigma who interpreted her cards with a robotic demeanor. Through a tiny window, she sent me a prophecy ticket summing up my entire life. I held my breath and peered at it: “Great oaks from little acorns grow.” Whew — at least it wasn’t blank.
With Andy as my adventure ally, we conquered the bizarre labyrinth. To prevent my upper body from tumbling forward, I constantly shifted the tilt position of the seat of my Permobil. Ramps were often lopsided or downright bumpy. I wouldn’t discourage any wheelchair-user from experiencing this bewildering cryptogram of collectibles, but it’s helpful to enter it with an anticipatory mindset of challenging navigation. It was the most intriguing spin on accessibility I’ve ever encountered, in an unforgettable, archaic way.
During our outing, I noticed that few people stared at my wheelchair. In a house of oddities, this little acorn on wheels was probably the least weird thing onlookers had seen all day.
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