Windy City Media Group Frontpage News

THE VOICE OF CHICAGO'S GAY, LESBIAN, BI, TRANS AND QUEER COMMUNITY SINCE 1985

home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Pre-order Book!
Pre-order Book!
Donate

Sponsor
Sponsor

  WINDY CITY TIMES

Robert Allerton: Living well is the best revenge
by Lucinda Fleeson
2009-10-07

This article shared 23492 times since Wed Oct 7, 2009
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email


A new book about a Hawaiian garden chronicles the little-known story of the Allertons of Chicago and the first "civil union" of two men in Illinois.

The Sunday Chicago Tribune crowned him "The Richest Bachelor in Chicago," in 1906. Tribune society pages breathlessly chronicled the lavish life of Robert Allerton, from his opera attendances to his weekend parties at The Farms, his baronial estate in central Illinois' Piatt County. "There are no more cherished weekend invitations in these parts than those issued by Robert Allerton," gushed the Trib's society columnist.

The Marshall Fields, artist Fredric Bartlett, Colonel and Mrs. McCormick, all eagerly arrived. One young woman visited so often that she and Robert became engaged to be married—an arrangement soon broken off. Gentlemen suitors also came calling, attracted to the young millionaire with movie-star looks and Saville Row suits. British artist Glyn W. Philpot, infatuated, wangled an invitation to spend the summer of 1913 at The Farms. There he painted one of the few portraits of Robert, now hanging in the Tate Gallery in London. Entitled The Man in Black, it shows Robert in artist's black cape and turban, looking sideways, flirtatiously.

Robert Allerton officially remained in the closet. But protected by great wealth, style and social standing, he lived as openly as social convention allowed. His father, Samuel W. Allerton, was the force behind the founding of the Union Stockyards and the First National Bank of Chicago. A former cattle driver and livestock speculator, Sam built a vast network of farms connected by rail lines that stretched from Wyoming to New York. Ruthless and crude, he never lost the pirate's gleam in his eye.

His son, Robert, was different. People said the father excelled at making money; the son at spending it. Artistic, Robert spent five years in Europe studying painting before declaring he lacked talent, and returned to create his Piatt County estate, now called Allerton Park and operated as a conference center by nearby University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. To research Georgian halls, Robert spent a year traveling in England with a young male architect; to fill up his new estate, he took another young artist for a grand European shopping spree. And when he met John Gregg, the man who would become his life partner, they lived as father and "foster son." Years later, Robert and John Allerton became the first adults in Illinois to have their union legally sanctioned as father and adopted son, utilizing a quirky change in adoption law—a loophole that was later repealed to prevent more such civil unions.

Allerton and Gregg liked to tell the story of how Allerton had been invited to attend a "Dad's Day" football game and dinner held in the Zeta Psi fraternity house at the University of Illinois, in the fall of 1922. It seemed entirely natural to pair Allerton—the childless 49-year-old—with an orphaned student, handsome Gregg, then 22. Years later, Gregg recalled how a friend, "realized how lonesome Robert was. So he threw us together as much as he could so that Robert would have companionship ... He needed me and I needed him."

Allerton introduced his young protégé as his foster son at parties and operas, and on their travels around the globe. Something reminded them of a favorite restaurant in Paris? They flew over for a meal. They wanted inspiration for building a new garden? They wandered the gardens of Italy.

Allerton bought hundreds of gifts for the Art Institute of Chicago, bestowing on the museum its first Rodin sculptures ( six ) and its first Picasso ( a drawing ) , and paid for a new wing, becoming the facility's largest donor. Today those extraordinary gifts are only minimally remembered. A plaque hangs on the sidewall near the main entrance, unnoticed by museumgoers streaming past it.

While researching a new book about the Allerton's final garden masterpiece, built on the remote Hawaiian Island of Kauai, I tried to understand why the refined and elegant Allertons would leave Chicago in 1938 to move to a rural sugar plantation isle. I had a hunch that something must have been going on in Chicago that would precipitate such a break. People seldom travel to such extremes, unless they are escaping something.

University of Illinois at Chicago Professor John D'Emilio, one of the foremost historians of gay history, pointed me to the archives of University of Chicago sociologist Ernest W. Burgess, who predated Albert Kinsey's work at Indiana University by a decade, leading the earliest extensive studies of American homosexual life. Burgess and his students recorded a growing gay underworld culture, which peaked in the late 1920s and early 1930s in what came to be known as Chicago's Pansy Craze. By 1930, Variety reported that there were 35 "Pansy Parlors" in the Bohemian district now known as Near North.

The nighttime entertainments enjoyed a cache among high society and the middle class who visited gay nightclubs, drag shows and lesbian cafes.

The Pansy Craze and the accompanying tolerance by the straight world didn't last long. As the crush of the Depression descended, reformers demanded that Mayor Edward J. Kelly clean up nightlife, and campaigned against strippers and female impersonators. In early 1935, police padlocked gay night spots. In October 1935, police raided two State Street drag shows, ordering drag queens to "Put on pants or go to jail."

Beginning in 1936, Chicago and the rest of the nation hurtled into a full-scale sex panic, over what was named "the Moron Menace." A series of crimes, petty and heinous, by peeping toms, rapists, child molesters and murderers surged onto tabloid front pages. Homosexuality was viewed as a mental aberration and its practitioners equated with psychopaths and child molesters, all grouped together as "sex morons" and "sex fiends." Police stepped up surveillance of theaters and cruising spots, and routinely arrested men seeking consensual same-sex sex.

A bill to castrate sex criminals gained momentum in the legislature; others called for at least prolonged incarceration. In early 1937, Michigan passed the nation's first Sexual Psychopath Law, allowing anyone even suspected of deviance to be sent for an indeterminate length of time to a psychiatric hospital or penitentiary. A year later, just as the Illinois Legislature prepared to enact a bill to lock up homosexuals, Robert Allerton and John Gregg sailed for a long trip to Australia.

On a stopover in Honolulu, they flew a small plane to Kauai to look at a vacant beachfront estate. Driving through sugar cane fields, they gasped as they approached a pristine crescent beach of white sand, enclosed by high cliffs. The bay was startling sapphire blue, turquoise and celadon, silvered by the sun.

Appraising the sun-struck bay, and the pools of leafy shade under the palms, Allerton said to Gregg, You could build us a house. Whatever you want. And a garden. We can fill the valley.

"This is going to be my paradise," Robert Allerton said. He wrote a check for $50,000, and bought 86 acres and one of the most private coves in all Hawaii.

Was the alarming intolerance of gays in Chicago their primary motivation? We'll never know for certain, but Hawaii, with its relaxed sexual attitudes toward straights and gays alike, presented an attractive contrast to the straight-laced Midwest.

The Allertons originally envisioned Kauai as a winter retreat, but moved to Hawaii year around after World War II. And when their Chicago attorney spotted that a new adoption law had been passed in the Illinois legislature to allow adoption by adults, he drew it to Robert's attention.

On March 4, 1960, The First National Bank of Chicago issued a press release:

"Robert Allerton, a distinguished Illinois citizen who was born in Chicago in 1873 and who has been a long time resident of Monticello, has at last realized one of his greatest dreams. Under a recent change in the Illinois law, effective the first of the year, he has finally been able to legally adopt John Wyatt Gregg who has stood in the relationship of a son for thirty years."

Lucinda Fleeson's book, Waking Up In Eden: In Pursuit Of An Impassioned Life On An Imperiled Island, was published this year by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. She directs a program for international journalists at the Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, and lives in Washington, D.C.


This article shared 23492 times since Wed Oct 7, 2009
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email





Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


  ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE

Gay News

BOOKS Lesbian author Amanda Kabak to release hate-crime novel July 20 2021-05-15
- Lesbian author Amanda Kabak—a Chicago native who now resides in Lakeland, Florida—is releasing the novel Upended on July 20. In Upended, Maddie, a driven entrepreneur, finds her world thrown into disarray when she survives a hate ...


Gay News

'An Evening with Fran Lebowitz' in April 2022 in NYC 2021-05-12
- Legendary author, journalist and social observer Fran Lebowitz is slated to return to The Town Hall stage in New York City for two live, in conversation events on April 6-7, 2022. Lebowitz is coming off her ...


Gay News

Stephanie Battaglino, New York Life's first transgender officer, releases memoir 2021-05-11
--From a press release - May 11, 2021… Educator and motivational speaker Stephanie Battaglino today officially released her memoir, Reflections from Both Sides of the Glass Ceiling: Finding My True Self in Corporate America, from L'Oste Vineyard Press. After many years ...


Gay News

Gerber/Hart holding large book sale/exhibit viewing June 6 2021-05-10
- Gerber/Hart Library and Archives, 6500 N. Clark St., is holding a one-day book sale is returning on Sunday, June 6, 12-4 p.m., in the library reading room. Extra tables will be set up to significantly increase ...


Gay News

NATIONAL Military bill, LGBTQ teen, trans deaths, Pride items, children's book 2021-05-09
- New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill that directs the Department of Military and Veterans' Affairs in the Garden State to assist former Armed Forces service members who were denied an honorable discharge due to ...


Gay News

Jonathan Ned Katz talks new book, LGBTQ history, state of the world 2021-05-05
- Author, historian and activist Jonathan Ned Katz will come out with a new book, The Daring Life and Dangerous Times of Eve Adams, on May 18. The biography is centered on the life of Adams, a Jewish lesbian immigrant, and also ...


Gay News

BOOKS Lambda Literary Awards to take place June 1 2021-05-03
- The 33rd Annual Lambda Literary Awards—which celebrates LGBTQ+ books and authors—will take place Tuesday, June 1, 6-8 p.m. Typically held in person in New York City, this year's Lammys will be presented virtually for the first ...


Gay News

1971: The Chicago Daughters of Bilitis 2021-05-03
Excerpt from Chicago After Stonewall: Gay Lib to Gay Life - An excerpt from Chicago After Stonewall: Gay Lib to Gay Life, a new book by St Sukie de la Croix. You can buy the book from Amazon.com, all good bookstores, and for a signed copy, rattlinggoodyarns.com ...


Gay News

SHOWBIZ 'Master of None,' children's book, Kristen Stewart, expectant couple 2021-05-02
- Master of None is coming back—but this time, the series will focus on Lena Waithe's character, Denise, out.com noted. Master of None, created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang for Netflix, starred Ansari for the first ...


Gay News

1970: The Police Murder of James Clay 2021-04-26
Excerpt from Chicago After Stonewall: Gay Lib to Gay Life - " … One month after Finnie's Ball, a Chicago Defender headline read, 'Female Impersonator killed by cop in W. Side street brawl.' The Chicago Sun-Times headline read, 'Man slain fleeing police in bizarre W. Side clash.' ...


Gay News

'Documenting LGBTQ+ Histories' virtual talk on May 16 2021-04-22
- On Sunday, May 16, at 11 a.m. CT, Women and Children First will host the virtual panel discussion "Documenting LGBTQ+ Histories" on its Crowdcast Channel. Centering on the release of Diana Souhami's new book No Modernism ...


Gay News

Joan E. Biren aka JEB talks Portraits of Lesbians book journey and re-issue 2021-04-21
- In an era where lesbian visibility was almost non-existent, activist and photographer Joan E. Biren (or as she is also known, "JEB") self-financed and self-published a photography book called Eye To Eye: Portraits of Lesbians. Biren's ...


Gay News

Bechdel, Rannells among upcoming CHF guests 2021-04-21
- The Chicago Humanities Festival (CHF) announced its line-up of virtual programs with award-winning writers, scholars and cultural icons in late April and throughout May. Among LGBTQ participants/guests will be Fun ...


Gay News

BOOKS Chicago After Stonewall available May 11 2021-04-19
- Chicago After Stonewall: Gay Lib to Gay Life—a detailed account of how LGBTQ's in Carl Sandburg's "City of the Big Shoulders" responded to the Stonewall Riots—will be available May 11. This book pulls together jigsaw pieces ...


Gay News

SHOWBIZ Brandi Carlile, 'Legendary,' children's book, film festival, Janet Mock 2021-04-18
- Lesbian musician Brandi Carlile memoir, Broken Horses, debuted at number one on The New York Times Best Sellers list, a press release announced. In addition to the hardback book, a very special audiobook edition of the ...


 



Copyright © 2021 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.

 

 

 

TRENDINGBREAKINGPHOTOS






Donate


About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.