The World Within

nder an army-green tarp, tucked away behind the “Forevertron,” Dr. Evermor is holding court with some of the visitors at his sculpture park off Highway 12 south of Baraboo. He’s an old man, hobbled by a recent stroke, though he can still stand up if he wants to. He wears a large-brimmed hat and sits in a wheelchair, talking breezily to people who’ve come from all over the state, and the country, to see—maybe to inhabit—the world he has created. The stroke doesn’t seem to have dampened his spirits.

“They took the cannonballs, the shells!” he says of a recent visit by local officials. “They cleaned up the mercury. We had every kind of environmentalist down here you could think of! But I’ll tell you one thing: this is the safest place possible now.”

Dr. Evermor laughs at this, but then turns a bit rueful.

“But I lost twenty-one Civil War cannonballs that I was welding to the cannons,” he says.

“They were live?” a man standing next to him asks.

“They were good cannonballs!” he says, which doesn’t exactly answer the question.

Formerly known as Tom Every, Dr. Evermor was an industrial wrecker and junk collector. For a time, he was also a colleague of House on the Rock creator Alex Jordan, and worked with him on various projects until the two had a falling-out. Around that same time in the early 1980s, other things in Every’s life fell apart too: He lost his house and spent nine months in jail for failing to pay taxes, according to a recent biography of him, A Mythic Obsession, by local author Tom Kupsh.

Ironically, it was then that Every also had something Alex Jordan never had: a vision, a story, a kind of personal mythology that wrote itself in his mind. It was a tale of his ancestor, Dr. Evermor, a kind of mad inventor who created a machine called the Forevertron to transport himself to heaven, to space, and beyond.

Then, on a friend’s land, he began to build the world of Dr. Evermor as he’d imagined it.

It’s hard to say why, but there have been many Wisconsinites like Every who had visions of strange and wonderful things, and then dedicated their lives to realizing them. There was Mary Nohl with her sculpture garden in Fox Point. There was Herman Rusch’s Prairie Moon Sculpture Park in Cochrane. There was Nick Engelbert’s Grandview in Hollandale. There was Fred Smith’s Concrete Park in Phillips. There was even Sam Sanfillippo and his Squirrel Diorama in Madison.

Dr. Evermor may be one of the last dreamers alive in this grand tradition. As I walked around the grounds of his Forevertron, it seemed to me a great thing to have one’s purpose in life be laid out so clearly. It may be that the time has passed for these kinds of visions, but I can’t help being moved by them. They seem to embody something truly alive. They seem to be an act of pure faith in the power of creation.

I thought about this as I passed the giant birds and enormous insects and massive metal contraptions of uncertain purpose. The details were amazing. The effect was dizzying. It was like being in an enchanted place. It was like being transported into another world.

Under his tarp, I sat and listened as Dr. Evermor chatted with the onlookers. He was discussing something he called the Time Travel Token of Energy, which, as best I could tell, was a small coin he was going to sell to people who stopped by.

“You’ll be able to time travel!” he said. “It’ll have thought patterns and healing powers and all that. It’s all kind of high-powered science, with Nikola Tesla and Albert Einstein’s blessings. Anyway, what the hell are you going to do but laugh and have some fun?”

He says all this with a glint in his eye, as if it were true, but not true at all, as if he were living in the 1800s but had his feet firmly in the 2000s. Perhaps there was some space in between where he existed, a place between the real and unreal, where everything was possible. A place we might call imagination.

What is it, I wondered, that makes some people need to make something like this out of nothing? What pushes some people to act on their urge to build something beautiful? And how many of us have the courage to pursue our dreams in such a bold, tangible way?

As I sat there listening, a woman with a cane walked up and took Dr. Evermor’s hand as if he were some kind of priest.

“Thank you,” she said. “Thank you for this. I was hurting when I woke up today, but now I am just fine. You’ve done wonders for me today, and this place has done wonders, and I wanted to thank you.”

“Well, all we want to do is spread happiness and healing, if that’s okay,” Dr. Evermor replied.

“That’s okay,” she said, and walked back through Forevertron, and beyond.

Contributing writer Frank Bures’s work appears in the Best American Travel Writing 2009.