Partner Robert Allerton, buried together

Queer Places:
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, IL
Allerton Garden, 3530 Papalina Rd, Kalaheo, HI 96741, Stati Uniti

Image result for John Gregg AllertonOn March 4, 1960, Robert Allerton, 86, adopted 60-years-old John Wyatt Gregg (November 7, 1899 – May 1, 1986). They had met 38 years previously at a "Father-Son" fraternity banquet at the University of Illinois where the single and childless Allerton, 49, had been invited by a friend to stand in as a "father" to a then 22 year-old Gregg, who was an orphan. Interviewed in the 1980s, Gregg explained: "Robert Allerton was invited over there for lunch for a football game and he didn't have a son and I didn't have a father so we were paired off and lived happily ever after. ... We just gradually eased into a father-son relationship" (Allerton 1984, 1-2).

Their was the first adoption of an adult child in the Illinois state's history, and in Hawai'i, where the two had lived for twenty years, so the adoption was newsworthy in both places. The First National Bank of Chicago, which had been co-founded by Allerton's father, issued a statement on behalf of the pair explaining that, "Under a recent change in the Illinois law which became effective the first of this year, [Allerton] has finally been able to legally adopt John Wyatt Gregg who has stood in the relationship of a son for thirty years." The Champaign-Urbana Courier, which covered the jurisdiction where the adoption took place, announced: "Companion Is Adopted by R. Allerton" (March 5, 1960).

John Wyatt Gregg was born on November 7, 1899, in Milwaukee, the third child of greengrocer James Richmond Gregg and his wife, Kate Scranton Gregg. At the time of his graduation from high school and the simultaneous death of his mother from breast cancer, he was drafted into the army but got no further than the Student Army Training Corps. The war ended soon thereafter and he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in chemical engineering. His father died in 1921, leaving the Gregg siblings orphaned and John transferred to the University of Illinois, after increasingly finding himself drawn toward architecture, which Wisconsin did not offer. As a member of Zeta Psi at Wisconsin he was able to join a sister chapter at Illinois and thus lived in the fraternity house during his first year at Illinois, in the autumn of 1922. It was there that he would meet Allerton, at a Zeta Psi "Father-Son" banquet, where Allerton, who had been involved with the University for some time, was asked to stand in as Gregg's "father" (Allerton n.d., 17-18; Soruika and Klemt, 52; Chicago Tribune 1960).

Immediately upon graduation Gregg traveled in Europe—England, Holland, and Germany—by his telling alone, though financed by his new patron: "Robert Allerton gave me a nice check to get me going" (Allerton n.d., 18; Nancy R----; New York Times 1926). Upon his return he began work as a draftsman, and later job captain, for David Adler, the Chicago architect; he had landed the job through Allerton's connections. At first he lived in Chicago near his friends Paul and Dorothy Schweikher; Paul was a fellow draftsman at Adler's studio. Schweiker recalled: "[John] was a companion to Robert Allerton. Not sure what you would call it at that time. ... and he was very social, in the social swim. The rest of us didn't have that – John brought it in". Though this recollection dates from many years later, clearly Gregg's friend at the time recognized that there was something unique – indeed unidentifiable – about his relationship with Allerton.

The first mention of Robert Allerton and John Gregg together appeared in 1928, two years after Gregg had graduated from Illinois, when the Chicago Tribune announced those notables attending the opera, cataloguing who sat in whose box: "With Mrs. Potter Palmer were Mrs. Barrett Wendell, Mrs. Chauncey McCormick, Prince Galitzen, Robert Allerton, and John Gregg" (7 December1928). By 1931, the Tribune reported on the two traveling together, but the language of their relationship had become solidified as father and son, despite the fact that this was not legally so: "Robert Allerton, art collector, intensive farmer, and one of our leading bachelors, has recently returned from a trip to China and Siam with his adopted son, John Gregg" (Cousin Eve). In December of 1933, the Tribune reported on a charity ball to celebrate recent acquisitions by the Art Institute: "Mr. and Mrs. Potter Palmer will have their son-in-law and daughter, the Oakleigh Thorne-Lewises; Mr. and Mrs. Kellogg Fairbank, and Robert Allerton and his adopted son, John Gregg, with them" (17 December 1933).

In 1930 John's employer's wife died in a car accident and, combined with the effects of the Depression, Adler scaled back on his practice. John Gregg was out of a job as well as a reason to remain in Chicago. As Gregg put it in an oral history: "I came down here to Monticello and Robert Allerton gave me the job running the farms with Elmer [the farm manager]. ... He said now you take over managing the farms with Elmer and you manage the gardens" (Allerton n.d., 20). Many years later Gregg was still referring to his first years with Allerton as ones of employment. He arrived at Monticello not just to manage the farms but also with plans in hand for a restructuring of one of the ornamental gardens that stretches outwards from Allerton House. Thus began their architectural collaboration. Gregg explained in an interview: "My father gave me jobs because he was not satisfied with things the way they were, and so that I wouldn't feel that I was wasting all the talent that I'd been trained for. He wanted to give me my head to try things out. He was a marvelous father. Fathers and sons don't always work that way" ("Legacy Continues").

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  1. https://www.colorado.edu/gendersarchive1998-2013/2012/01/03/queering-couplehood-robert-john-allerton-and-historical-perspectives-kinship