I stayed at the Prairie House Motel in 1993. My parents wanted a vacation, and being under 18, I got packed along for the ride. My father and I were charged with planning the vacation and making the arrangements. I’m pretty sure he chose Spring Green because of the American Player’s theater – which we missed, as we went during one of the theater’s “dark” periods – and because of its proximity to Frank Lloyd Wright stuff. My parents recognized I had a knack for finding good values and making good investments (the knack I still have, though the means is something I’m still working on) so Dad charged me with picking the hotel.
The Prairie House was one of three motels I recommended. I may be imagining this, but I vaguely recall Dad telling me not to let my mother know I had a hand in the choice.
I remember well my mother’s reaction to Prairie House. When we pulled up outside, it was brown, looked like clapboard, and emitted a whiff of the seedy. My mother had a fit. She blamed Dad for a horrible choice, predicted cockroaches and regretted letting Dad make any decisions at all – in between guilt tripping me for ordering a side dish at a restaurant two days before, conveniently forgetting that when I went to restaurants with my parents, I paid my own way unless my grandparents were present.
Then Dad emerged with the keys, and we wandered into the room, and Alice’s persona changed. The patter of constant bitching stopped, and she marveled. We were given a corner room, and the design of it was amazing, with dimensions and upkeep that contradicted its seedy exterior. She was amazed, and after partaking of the motel’s community aspects, had to concede that we’d gotten a darned good deal.
I returned to Spring Green several years later with my graduate school work partner. We needed a break, and I had found the area deeply restorative. We too missed American Players’ theater, but we didn’t care. We were just having a good time. I opted for the Round Barn Inn , next door to the Prairie House. It had a pool.
Cue to this year, when Mike and I stayed at the Usonian. As we passed the Prairie House, I realized it was abandoned. A little fishing and I found out there was a flood that shut down the motel – and that led to the strangest of strange abandonment.
One night, we stopped because I just had to see what became of the place. I had intended only to get an across the street shot, but since Mike pulled right on into the lot, I decided to take the opportunity to nose around in more detail. It was strange.
Spots were overgrown, and yet signs of life circled around the motel still. It looked as though someone left, intending to be gone only for a moment, and then never returned. It was vaguely haunting, in the form of someone showing up for a beer and leaving the pack, in the style of abandoned flip flops, in the form of unmade beds in still-complete motel rooms.
I half expected to see a post-it note saying “back soon!”
This was a tragedy, a great financial loss – and there’s a chance that the motel will actually recover from this. Yet it felt so strange, and so haunted by things familiar, lifelike and recent.
I wondered about squatters – many towns we passed through on the way to Spring Green showed signs of the current economic struggle, and since tourism follows agriculture in the area, I had to wonder what the flood and the loss of Prairie House did to the town. I wondered too about squatters, but Mike didn’t seem to think that was likely.