When I was growing up in the 1960s, the favorite place to go tripping was Allerton Park in Monticello, Illinois. Situated on 1,500 acres, this estate was built by an heir to Samuel Allerton’s Chicago stockyard fortune named Robert Allerton, who was an avid art collector and one of the leaders of the gay party scene in Chicago. Robert eventually adopted his young gay lover to live with him.
The estate was built in the middle of nowhere, nestled between a stream and reflection pond. The photo (left) is taken from the South, the stream lies to the right and one could see and hear it from the huge brick deck that juts out from the eastern wing of the mansion. Robert wanted total privacy for his infamous parties, which often lasted for days. He had a private train track built that connected to the Illinois Central line so that his guests could easily travel from Chicago straight to his mansion, which was surrounded by the most beautiful gardens in the state. The track ended a mile from the house, probably because Robert wanted to bring them the final way via open-air, horse-drawn carriages so they could fully appreciate the magnificent landscaping as they entered the estate grounds.
These gardens were filled with the most amazing sculptures, the largest of which was titled “The Sun Singer.” This bronze statue of Apollo was placed on a huge round pedestal and was the largest of the art works Allerton imported from Europe. The original had been placed in Stockholm harbor and when Robert saw it, he asked the sculptor, Carl Milles, to make a version for him.
Parties went on constantly at the mansion and the guests would usually be asked to change into a costume upon arrival depending on the theme of the week. Robert kept many costume options available for his guests, but some of the most elaborate were Chinese silk robes. I sometimes used to wonder if they had any black robes for some “darker” ceremonies. Apparently, the guests would gather round the Sun Singer in the pre-dawn darkness and then hold a pagan sunrise ceremony. I used to suspect Robert may have been part of some illuminati cult, but later learned that he was probably just a gay party dude, who moved to Hawai’i permanently after his favorite gay bars were closed in Chicago. The end of the Roaring Twenties had brought a close to Robert’s revelry in Illinois. That plus the Depression, which made it far too expensive to maintain a 1,500 acre estate.
The garden closest to the mansion contained 22 beautiful Foo Dogs from China, although today most of these have been sadly vandalized. Near the Foo Dog garden was a pagoda with a giant gold Buddha inside, probably the largest in the state if not the country. This was a wonderful place to trip because not only could you enjoy miles of hiking through wilderness trails, but you’d constantly be stumbling into these wonderful gardens filled with plants, flowers, ponds, and fantastic sculptures. To give you an idea, there was a Herb Garden, Walled Garden, Triangle Parterre Garden, Peony Garden, Chinese Maze Garden, Hidden Garden, Sunken Garden. There was also an amazing sculpture hidden in the forest titled “Death of the Last Centaur,” a tribute to the demise of paganism. Most of the gardens were designed to be ceremonial sites and one wonders about the nature of some of these gay ceremonies and whether any orgies were involved. One thing for sure, Robert put a wall with guard dogs around the property closest to the road. He was very serious about maintaining his privacy.
Paul Tyner, a math prodigy grad student at the University of Illinois, became a local celebrity upon publishing his first novel, Shoot It in 1968. The first time I became aware of Paul, he appeared at a huge acid party at Allerton driving a VW bug. The car was small enough to fit between the concrete blocks that had been erected to keep vehicles off the trails and out of the gardens. Paul was high on LSD, driving that bug full speed straight at the pagoda. I don’t remember if he crashed or not, probably he did since he was certainly out-of-control that day and drinking heavily.
The sky was the limit for Paul. His book had been praised in the press by the most respected critics, and a movie deal was struck. The book was brilliant, although it’s very hard to find a copy these days. It reminded me somewhat of A Separate Peace by John Knowles in that the protagonist commits a crime on impulse and then tries to blot it out of his memory by constructing a wall of denial. Both books are really about the power of the subconscious mind, but Knowles’ takes place in an exclusive Ivy League prep school, while Tyner’s is set amongst the Chicago working-class.
Unfortunately, Paul slid into alcoholism pretty quick and went from the most celebrated novelist in the state to working as a bus boy at the House of Chin just to get free beer. If anyone has any info on him, I’d appreciate some updates. I’m sure he died young and broke.
Meanwhile, in 1974, the film adaptation was released under the title: “Shoot It Black, Shoot It Blue,” starring Michael Moriarty and Paul Sorvino. Although well-reviewed, this film is never shown anywhere it seems. Someday I hope Paul’s legacy can be restored.