Forevertron, and a Day
Highway 12 lazes through Sauk County, Wisc., cushioned on either side by emerald green farmland and brightly painted grain silos. During the summer, warm rainstorms soak the asphalt within a breath's span and lightning bolts skitter across fields strewn with glistening tractors. The air is spongy and green.
The Sauk County seat is Baraboo, Wisc. -- famed hub of American circus lore, where men still carve wagon wheels and schoolchildren covet the smell of greasepaint -- but the true Midwest pilgrim's bourn lies some five miles south, across from the abandoned Badger Army Ammunition Plant on Highway 12, just outside Prairie Du Sac, under the auspices of Delaney's Surplus. Travelers from all over the world come to Wisconsin seeking out Delaney's, not for the nourishment offered by endless cans of Superman SpaghettiOs or for the comfort and security of 80 bright yellow aqua-lungs, but because, somewhere behind the vast castaway emporium, hidden by a bulwark of towering trees, lies the Forevertron, and its creator, Dr. Evermor.
For two years, I had carried a small snapshot of the Forevertron pressed between the pages of favorite books. I didn't know it had a name. I didn't know how big it was or what it did. But I did know the man who dropped the seductive photo into my lap had been on intimate terms with a great many unusual things, and the first time he saw the Forevertron he fell to his knees. So I came.
There are whispers of the Forevertron in the tall grass along the highway outside Delaney's, tall metal sculptures that invite long stares and experimental touches: a pale wrought-iron gazebo with peeling benches and delicate curlicues; a towering crimson heart, made of 6-inch-thick steel, that took an architect's mind and a giant's hand to erect; tremendous birds with feathery brown wings formed from the rusted blades of clipping shears; several man-sized lizards standing upright with wide comical eyes, chain-link tails, and pursed lips so sweet with mild surprise that you might ignore their industrial beginnings.
But these are mere whispers.
Through an unlocked gate of two long red metal spars, down a short dirt road, and around a gentle bend waits the chimeric world of Dr. Evermor -- 12 acres, 15 years, 10,000 sculptures, more than 1,000 tons of scrap, and the Forevertron.
Dr. Evermor was born Tom Every in 1938 in Madison, Wisc., where certain passions became manifest at a very early age. He recalls wartime recycling as a child, youthful patriotism infused by used toothpaste tubes and old rags. He remembers collecting newspaper and scrap metal with his Cub Scout troop in Brooklyn, Wisc. He remembers when the troop turned its attention to other benevolent causes, while he continued to hunt for stray pieces of copper and iron. At 11, he sold his first full railroad car and founded the Brooklyn Salvage Co. Later, he founded the Wisconsin By-Products Corp., recycling for U.S. Rubber and collecting industrial scrap for local dealers. Then he went into demolition, overseeing the wrecking of more than 350 major industrial sites over the next 20 years.
Every has a gift for distinguishing metals -- something his wife of 35 years says a person is either born with or not -- and as he tore apart trains, canning factories, power plants, churches, breweries, creameries, and railroad cars, he began to appreciate how the pieces fit together. He began admiring the intrinsic beauty of industrial form. He saved fragments from meltdown and started constructing metal "fantasy machines." During a 12-year association with Alex Jordan, a wealthy eccentric who turned his "bachelor pad" into Wisconsin's most popular tourist attraction, Every created countless machines, including the world's largest carousel, which became the chief enticement at Jordan's House on the Rock. Today, Every's baroque style and ingenuity still permeate the house and grounds but, as often happens in the confluence of art and commerce, when the relationship went sour, Every went without credit or compensation.
The Forevertron was Dr. Evermor's colossal corrective.
Sauk County is draped in a threadbare cloud cover that bathes the sculpture garden in pale ivory light. Insects and lawn mowers buzz through the tall grass. Lady Eleanor, Dr. Evermor's wife, sits in the center of "Metahappenings" -- a round cement patio scattered with smallish, carry-away sculptures like the wide-armed Happys and the leering Hors D'oeuvre Kittys -- with a gold paintbrush, putting a sparkle in a nutcracker Periwinkle's eye. Visitors trickle through the trees, tentatively asking if the sculpture garden is open. They are an odd assortment -- families with relatives in the area, folk-art seekers, net-savvy Winnebago warriors, artists with solemn faces and sketchbooks, and pilgrims with rumors in their pockets. Lady Eleanor smiles at them all and takes donations when she cares to.
The sculpture garden is always open, and even when it's not open, it's available -- as local children who nightly raid the soda cooler will attest. There are no tour routes or guides. There are no time limits, or souvenir T-shirts at the end of the road. There are only dinosaur flies as big as semi-trucks, with autoclave bodies and giant compound eyes; scornful spiders on spindly legs two stories high; 17-foot-tall Madagascar "elephant birds," made with salvaged instruments that play by wind or by hand, and packs of prairie cats with slavering mouths stalking them through the trees; a 30-foot-long wagon that makes coffee and grills hot dogs; God-sized violins, running and jumping through flocks of peacocks; cosmic listening devices with Victrola-style megaphones; armies of "computer bugs"; hordes of lizards; choruses of wide-eyed whatnots. It goes on: Behind every tree, under every shrub, around every corner lurk whimsical notions and terrible creatures, assembled from the extinct trappings of industrial revolution.