Sunday, November 15, 2009

Where In The World Is Joel? Not San Diego!

One of the things that I am liking the best about living in Champaign-Urbana is feeling, once again, like a member of an actual community. For example, on Saturday, Robyn and I were strolling through downtown Champaign when we ran into our friend John, who was sipping coffee and surfing the web at a cafe. (It was really nice outside at that moment.) He asked us if we wanted to hang out, and, kind of on the spur of the moment, we said sure.

"Have you guys been to Allerton Park?" he asked us.

"What?" we said in unison.

"Oh, man! You guys have got to see Allerton Park! It is awesome!"

So we did, because it was a lovely Saturday afternoon and we happened to run into our friend John - who called his girlfriend Jean who drove us to Allerton Park - and because we didn't really have anything better to do.

It turns out that Allerton Park is awesome, and it is also absolutely insane. The park is 1,500 acres of woods and marshes that surround the Allerton mansion and estate. The estate was built as a home by Samuel Allerton - Chicago businessman, politico, and slaughterhouse tycoon - for his gay, art-collecting, philanthropist son, Robert. On the Allerton Park website, it says, "Allerton believed that art surrounded and embraced every human being through nature. His belief in the artistic power of nature led to a life-long commitment to stewardship of the land and its natural elements." I can just imagine the conversation the 20-year old Robert had with Samuel while his dad was running for Mayor of Chicago in 1893. "But Dad, I don't want to go and work in the stockyards! I believe that art surrounds and embraces every human being through nature!"

But it sounds like Robert was rather happy in his estate out in the woods, where he collected art and was a patron to both the University of Illinois and the Art Institute of Chicago. He lived there until 1946, where he and his partner, John Gregg, moved to Kauai and donated the entire estate to the University of Illinois. In 1960, Allerton officially adopted Gregg and declared him legal heir, thereby allowing Gregg to continue Allerton's legacies of philanthropy and art patronage.*

Today, the estate is a state park, one of the "Seven Wonders of Illinois," and the main building serves as a conference center. And the place is crazy-cool. Allerton and Gregg had traveled the world collecting art pieces, and Allerton Park has a mosaic of aesthetic themes coming from China, the South Pacific, Egypt, Greece, Versailles, and Duchess County, New York. (Where Samuel Allerton was born. Robert went to prep school in Massachusetts and dropped out of Harvard.)

Here are some pictures Robyn and I took on our camera phones:

The path leading up to the mansion.

A Scary Face On The Wall

Naked Lady Sphinx


And at the end of the hedgerows... "The Birth of Man." Looking good, Adam. No Eve necessary.

This is the path going out into the woods on the other side of the mansion. Only one of two things live at the end of that path: The Headless Horseman or the Erlkonig.

Or John.

This path actually goes for a ways around the estate, and there were lots of signs telling us to look out for bow hunters. We saw lots of pileated woodpeckers, and even heard an owl of some sort.

More woods. Check out that vine twisting around and choking that tree to death.

Actually, the path leads to the Fu Dog Garden. Inside that gazebo are two statues of Buddha and one of an Egyptian pharaoh, all being guarded by 22 Chinese Fu Dogs. (This was my favorite part.)

The Fu Dogs are made out of blue ceramic, and became popular during the Han Dynasty. (200 BC - 220 AD) I don't know how old these ones are.

Fu Dog!

I call the big one Bitey.

Black Fu Dog!

Anyways, that's about it. We followed a whim and ended up on an adventure to see an awesome place that I had no idea existed. I love it when things like that happen. It makes me want to go and seek out the other six Wonders of Illinois.**

*An interesting way to cope with the discriminations and legal obstacles presented to gay men and lesbians who cannot marry. Gregg was 26 years younger than Robert, but was also 61 when he was adopted.

**Fu Dog!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have spent my life trying to get a good look at a pileated woodpecker. and you find them as a junk bird!!!!! You FU DOG you!!!