House on the Rock makes the cut in new Atlas Obscura

The thrill of travel is about discovering the unexpected, be it one town over or an ocean away. If you relish the unusual, beyond perfunctory tourist attractions, check out two new books that lasso life’s uniqueness and oddities.

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders – snippets of the outrageous, overlooked and obsessive – topped the New York Times bestseller list shortly after its release in 2016. Now the second edition (Workman Publishing, $37.50, is ready with more than 1,000 bizarre, one-of-a-kind and lesser-known destinations.

Among the additions is a foldout map that plots an around-the-world trip, but it’s not a whirlwind of glamorous cities. Quite the contrary.

The route starts and ends in the Antarctic, beginning at a sculpture garden whose centerpiece is a weathered wooden totem named Fred, created by a plumber in 1977. Visitors can use scrapyard materials to add their own artistic expressions to this plant-less expanse.

The self-described “dream itinerary” ends at the Southern Pole of Inaccessibility, marked by a bust of Vladimir Lenin and farther from the ocean than any other spot in Antarctica. Few have made this brutal, isolated trek since Soviet researchers marked the spot in 1958.

Between the end points are 78 destinations, and most are significantly more attainable. All seven continents are covered, and stop No. 16 is our own House on the Rock, the late Alex Jordan’s fantasyland near Spring Green. It is nearly 60 years old.

“A walk through the house raises a lot of questions,” the book observes. “Is this all real? Why is that massive sea monster battling a giant squid, and how does it relate to the robot orchestra?

“Don’t look for answers. Just marvel.”

When authors Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton take us to Independence, Mo., it’s not to pay homage to President Truman in his hometown. It’s to check out the jewelry, wreaths and bouquets at Leila’s Hair Museum, where the thousands of framed and other Victorian artifacts are made with human hair.

Forget the Louvre: This book’s 20-some stops in Paris favor places like the House of Nicolas Flamel. “Covered in strange and arcane symbols of magical transformation, it may hold the secret of turning tin into gold,” we are told. (The city’s oldest stone house also is a fine restaurant.)

All is intended to “inspire a sense of wonder,” authors Thuras and Foer say in their introduction. They acknowledge that some sites aren’t meant to be visited in person. But each site is a springboard for discovery, making this the type of compendium that will amuse and engage armchair travelers as well as hardcore adventurers and lovers of the absurd.

Thuras heads to Milwaukee for Atlas Obscura chatter, travel trivia and a book signing at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 16 at the American Geographical Society Library, 2311 E. Hartford Ave., on the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee campus.

At least a trio of other Wisconsin spectacles make the cut in the new edition of Atlas Obscura:

Tom “Dr. Evermor” Every’s Forevertron, the world’s largest sculpture made with scrap metal, near Baraboo and behind Delaney’s Surplus Sales on U.S. 12.

FAST Fiberglass Mold Graveyard, an array of molds designed for bigger-than-life sculptures, near Sparta. FAST Corp.’s work includes the massive, walk-through-it musky at the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward.

Kovac Planetarium, with a two-ton globe that rotates, near Rhinelander and created by Frank Kovac. (The attraction permanently closed in 2018.)

In addition to the curiosities in the new Atlas Obscura book, check out, where thousands of additional destinations are pinpointed and described.

World Traveler, what else should be added? Tell me about the truly weird and wonderful that you’ve seen – in 50 words or less – for a chance to receive a copy of Atlas Obscura. Your deadline is Oct. 31.

If your children are getting harder to entertain during getaways, consider 111 Places for Kids in Chicago That You Must Not Miss (Emons Publishers, $20, by Amy Bizzarri. To quote the late Dr. Seuss, oh the places you’ll go.

Three quick examples of what to expect:

Giraffes eat kale from visitor’s hands at Brookfield Zoo.

Customers can fill a pinata with traditional Mexican candies at Dulcelandia.

Halim Time and Glass Museum, Evanston, is the only museum dedicated to stained glass and the study of time.

The author lives in Chicago and knows how to think like a kid: She is a teacher and mother of two. Most of what she recommends are for ages 3 through 12, and this book is a part of a series by the Germany-based publisher.