The Magic of Allerton
Do some places intrinsically have some magic to them? That’s something I was asking myself as I walked the grounds of Allerton Park & Retreat Center for their Winter Walk.
Even when not all gussied up in lights for the Winter Walk, I’ve always felt that way about Allerton. I’d gone to Allerton not too long ago to take my new author photos. I’d seen some of the set-up for the Winter Walk at the time, but last night I finally got to see the results for myself.
The first time we went to Allerton around 2005, my partner and I travelled there and parked in a side lot. My memory is that the park was not as well maintained as it is now. I remember the signage being confusing, at least. So we got out of the side lot and walked through the woods. The same woods we walked through last night. It was pleasant, the sunlight showing through in patches on the ground. We found a small stone pool with a stone bench. It reminded me like something out of Lord of the Rings. A long forgotten elvish remnant. That, at least, is where my mind went. So, imagine my surprise as the trail we are on opened up to a clearing. A clearing where blue Fu Dog statues stood on pedestals. And in the distance was a terraced house. These were, as I later came to know, the Fu Dogs and the House of Buddhas. It was like discovering a lost city.
Then we went through the gardens. We saw the statue of Adam. The Sunken Garden. The mansion on the lake. It was 100% magical. So maybe that’s always stuck with me. But I’ve been there countless times over the last 15 years and that feeling of magic has never left.
Last night it felt like the old place removed its cloak of the everyday and let its true colors show. As if it was saying, yes I’m a bit magic. A little of an old world captured here and placed on the prairie. Like the House on the Rock, another place I love, it was a quirky masterpiece, shepherded by a singular vision.
The Possibly (Probably) Gay History of Allerton
Robert Henry Allerton attempted to replicate an English estate at Allerton. I bought a book from the gift shop at Allerton long, long ago. Which mentioned Allerton’s good friend John Gregg who was 26 years his junior and whom he eventually adopted as his son. The coding there was pretty plain to me, but at the the time (this was probably about thirteen years ago) trying to find any information on whether Allerton was, indeed, in a homosexual relationship with Gregg was impossible to find.
Thankfully, that has changed. Allerton and Gregg were together the rest of their lives. Their ashes were intermingled and spread together in Hawaii, where they eventually settled. At the time, of course, same-sex adoption was a way of couples getting around the illegality of marrying someone of their own gender. Now, it must be said, there’s no way of proving they were a homosexual couple. In public, they certainly present their relationship as mentor/mentee, employer/employee, father/son—but of course they would have had to maintain that illusion. But I’ve pretty much made up my mind it was the case. There’s just too much evidence otherwise. If nothing else, I’m glad there are finally articles talking about it openly.
The Legacy of Allerton
Allerton eventually donated his estate to the University of Illinois. I’m thankful that he did. Whatever Allerton’s personal life and how you feel about it, there’s so much beauty in what he left behind. I heartily recommend reading up more about Allerton, if you’re interested. His legacy includes much more than just the park. In any case, I’m so happy that it’ll be here for generations to enjoy. I find it so peaceful there. So calming. Last night it was also electric and alive. That mix of calm and inspirational is what I love about it.
A little bit of magic. Captured and held and protected. It almost felt wrong that people were talking while they walked around. But I realized that was just me. The Allerton I know is that magical place. I’m sure others know it other ways. But I’m happy to have that Allerton inside my head.