Sep 21, 2014

Robert Allerton and his Boyfriend/Son

Gay men in earlier generations devised all sorts of clever ways to be with their partners without arousing suspicion.  They became valets, secretaries, business partners, brothers-in-law.

But Robert Allerton is unique.  He made his boyfriend his son.

Born into luxury in 1873, son of the founder of the First National Bank of Chicago, Robert Allerton rejected the usual route of private school, Ivy League college, and tycoon career.  Instead, after he graduated from prep school, he bummed around Europe, collecting art.

In 1897 he bought a farm near Urbana, Illinois, and turned it into a series of ornate gardens, stocked with neoclassical statues and Asian art.

In 1922, at age 50, he met the 23-year old John Gregg, an aspiring architect who everyone called Jack.

There were some gay rumors, but in that far more heterosexist era, it was more commonly assumed that Jack was merely the protege of the older man.  Besides, they often took girls to public events.

Otherwise they lived happily together for thirty years.  They spent summers in Illinois, and traveled during the winters.  One year they'd go "Europewise," and the next "Orientwise."

They got some decidedly homoerotic work from their friends in the gay art world, such as Primitive Men from Glyn Philpott and The Sun Singer from Carl Milles. They are now visible at the Robert Allerton Park, which is open to the public.

Robert and Jack  were a common sight at parties, benefits, concerts, and nightclubs.  Their Thanksgiving Parties were legendary.

They had a wide circle of friends, including Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson.

They endowed the Robert Allerton Park, the Allerton Gardens in Hawaii, the Honolulu Academy of Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

But Robert was getting older.  What to do about inheriting his fortune?  In the eyes of the law, they were strangers.  Robert could merely amend his will to give Jack everything, but then relatives would protest, and there would be endless legal battles.

He came up with a clever solution.  In 1951, when Robert was 77, he legally adopted 52-year old Jack.  When he died five years later, his "son" automatically inherited everything.

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