Sailing the Ocean – Crossing the Pond

This model of the transatlantic ocean liner, Mauretania, is on display in the Water Transportation exhibit in the Smithsonian Museum of American History, in Washington DC. The Mauretania belonged to the British Cunard line and provided transatlantic passenger service primarily between New York City and England, usually porting at Southampton. The Mauretania held the speed record, the Blue Riband, for round trip transatlantic crossing for twenty years – 1909-1929.

Mauretania model at Smithsonian

Mauretania model at Smithsonian

With the ease of transatlantic or transpacific flights today, travel by ocean liner across the Atlantic for 4 days 22 hours seems difficult to imagine. Today’s Piatt County resident can drive to Chicago, catch a flight and arrive in London a short eight hours later.

In 1906, it took Robert Allerton about a week of non-leisure travel to reach Europe. The crossing took nearly five days, plus two day’s train travel from Chicago and another day’s travel by train from Monticello.IMG_9765

Unlike today’s air traveler with the choice of departure city, airline, class, price and time schedule. The choice for transatlantic travel in 1913, for example, rested primarily upon three passenger lines: Cunard, White Star and either Hamburg-America or North German Lloyd. Each line offered one Atlantic crossing per week using three ships for weekly service; a total of nine ocean liners making the weekly crossing. Three travel classes were offered. Each ship could carry 2,000 or more passengers. 6,000 people per week traveling from New York to England in 1913 seems like a big number for its time. Some well known transatlantic ships included Mauretania, Luisitania, Britannic, Olympic, Titanic, Cedric, Adriatic to name a few.

The New York Times newspaper reported scheduled ocean liner arrivals and departures, along with prominently name passengers, Robert Allerton included. In April, 1911, five ships from the Hamburg-America line docking in port in New York City at the same time made front page of the Times.

On-line searchable Ship Passenger Manifests provide a wealth of information. The manifests corroborate anecdotal or third party story and accurately document other claims. On-line demographic databases, such as Ancestry and FamilySearch, can factually dispute urban legends.

According to an on-line manifest database, Robert crossed the Atlantic at least five times on the Luisitania, sunk by a German U Boat in 1915. Ship manifests confirm Robert’s travel around the world with Charles Russell Hewlett in 1905.

Ship manifests document Robert traveled almost yearly, or twice, to Europe. The manifests support Robert’s reported practice of leaving the Farms during the winter months, returning home in March.

In 1909, Robert sailed to England in January aboard the ill-fated Luisitania, and home in March on the German ship, Kaiser Wilhelm II. Robert sailed to Europe round trip, again on the Luisitania, in 1911, leaving in January and returning in April. In January 1912, Robert sailed to England again on the Luisitania. According to a blurb in the Oakland Tribune in February 1913, Robert Allerton was the guest of Roger Quilter in South Mayfair, London. Robert returned to the US in April on the Mauretania.

New  print of Vintage photo. Found at resale store in Champaign. Dated 1912 in pencil on back. Four stacks identifies this class of ship. Mauretania was a ship of this class and similar markings.

New print of Vintage photo. Found at resale store in Champaign. Dated 1912 in pencil on back. Four stacks identifies this class of ship. Mauretania was a ship of this class and similar markings.

WWI slowed international travel, but the market quickly rebounded after the war. The White Star line lost the Titanic in 1912 to an iceberg collision. The Cunard line Luisitania was sunk by a German U-boat in 1915. The Brittanic was also sunk by enemy mines. By 1920, Robert had resumed his frequent travels abroad. Robert and friend, Frederic Clay Bartlett, sailed round trip in 1925 on the Barengaria, porting in Cherburg, France. The two men spent two February and March abroad on an art collecting trip for the Art Institute of Chicago, purchasing pieces that would become the Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection. Robert would return to Europe in July, 1925 aboard the Mauretania.

Ship manifests also confirm that Robert and John Gregg sailed together to England or Germany in 1927, 1930 and twice in 1932. Ship manifest of the German liner, the Bremen puts Robert and John Gregg aboard in January, 1932, returning home in March on sister-ship Europa. The Bremen had captured the Blue Riband from Mauretania in 1929. Evidently a second trip was taken to Germany, because the couple sailed home from Southampton to New York on the Europa in early November, 1932.P1040153

The two Bronze (Sea) Maidens that flank the entry into the Brick Garden have roots with ocean liner travel. Most likely during the Allerton’s 1932 travels, the couple commissioned a reversed pair of the statue that stood atop the ticket kiosk for the German Hamburg-Amerika line. The original statue held a Viking ship. For the Monticello Farms, the maidens hold bowls of grain in harmony with their agricultural placement. The original kiosk statue, according to a German blogger, remains in storage in the Hapag-Lloyd warehouse in Hamburg, Germany.

Will there be an on-line archive for our distant relatives or curious to search our travels on passenger lists? The digitalized passenger lists of ship manifests of the early 1900’s have a ‘tangible’ feel. The subscriber views digitalized photos of the original fountain pen scrawled or typed passenger manifests of ocean liner archives.The passenger lists include details like nationality, birth place, home address, occupation, purpose of travel. As a digitalized archive, the document is searchable by word. What a research innovation! The searchable database constantly expands as documents are entered. Early hand-written census records, ship passenger lists, immigration entry records, and signed passport applications with photographs offer post-modern tangibility to research.

In 1933 and thereafter, the Robert and John’s chose destinations with tropical climates like Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, Cambodia, Thailand and China. It was at the end of one such cruise during a stopover in Honolulu en route home that Robert and John visited the island of Kauai to see some real estate for sale.

And Allerton Park and Retreat is the rest of the story.

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It’s all in the details…

Can you find the small change in the pair of Bronze Maidens? Compare the shots from 2016 and 2017.

2016 October

2016 October

October 2017 - Kuohl Bronze Maidens

October 2017 – Kuohl Bronze Maidens


2016 October

2016 October

The cable series Project Runway, Fixer Upper and Million Dollar Listing and others sell their fans on the details. It’s all in the details.

IMG_7235This is also a reminder to the upcoming Kirby Hospital Winter Wellness Walk that begins December 8, 2017 and continues many evenings per week until January 6, 2018. The gardens will be open for evening walks in a lighted magical environment. Opening Friday night begins December 8, 2017 at 5:00. After strolling through the lighted gardens, the visitor can enter the House with paid entry to the Holiday Showcase. Live music will be performed, libations can be purchased and visitors can stroll through the House and shop local vendors for holiday gifts and wares. The Showcase continues daily through December 10, 2017.

Tickets are available now through Event Brite app. If purchased before December 1, showcase entry for Friday night is discounted from $10 to $8. Ticket entry on Saturday and Sunday is $10. Docent tours of the House are not scheduled during the Showcase.

The object of the Holiday Showcase 2017 seems to be about shopping for gifts in a magical setting with music and merriment. Vendors will offer products or take orders and arrange delivery.

Allerton Park is offering many holiday activities during November and December. Many of the activities are limited in number, require reservation or ticket (Event Brite) and some are already SOLD OUT.

For all these activities, your paid ticket gives entry into a splendidly decorated 1900 Georgian style home.IMG_7376 Robert Allerton did not live the Gilded Age life compared to the Vanderbilt’s, Astor’s, Carnegie’s or Rockefeller’s, but in the eye of the mid-western, non-urbans, Robert lived ‘higher on the hog’ than anyone else in Piatt County.

The magic of Robert’s House continues today. The magic leaves much to our own imaginations, since the House operates as a hotel and not a museum. Robert actually lived much better than what the visitor to his House today sees. IMG_7389Little of what the visitors see during the tour are original to Robert Allerton. Robert’s Bedroom upstairs is the same room, same bed and same sheets where a weekend wedding guest might sleep next week. The House is a swell hotel, but it is not a museum of keepsakes. What we see and take away mentally from today’s tour of Robert’s House is what we want choose. The Park is our magical escape. It’s comforting to know we still have one.

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An Opportunity Awaits – Sunday, October 8 & Monday, October 9, 2017

Next Sunday, October 8, 2017, at the Allerton Public Library in Monticello, IL a great opportunity awaits. Mr. David Finnigan, author of the book Inside Allerton offers a talk and slide presentation about Robert Allerton Park and book signing. Due to available stock, a limited number of copies of his book, released in late May of this year, will also be available for purchase. Whether you purchase his book on site or if you’ve already purchased this excellent sourcebook, Mr. Finnigan will gladly sign for you.


Another book signing event takes place the following day, October 9, at the Lincoln Library in Springfield, IL at 8:00 PM.

David Finnigan’s book is available on line from Amazon and eBay, as well as at selected locations locally in Monticello including, but not limited to, Allerton Library, Walgreen’s, The Steeple Coffeehouse, and at Allerton Conference Center (The House) within Allerton Park.

Mr. Finnigan’s book includes wonderful historic and contemporary photographs of the interior of the House and the gardens. His book has been carefully and thoroughly researched and documented. Mr. Finnigan’s book is required reading for everyone interested in the history of Robert Allerton’s Mansion and Formal Gardens.

In order to anticipate and accommodate the crowd expected, Allerton Library asks those planning to attend to call the library or email in advance. Pre-registration is not required; no one will be turned away. The telephone number is 217.762.4676 Email:

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A New View of The Park

Take a look at this drone video of the Formal Gardens of Allerton Park! A bird’s eye perspective. Enjoy!

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Passing the Park to the Next Generation


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Puvis de Chavannes on exhibit at Allerton Park

The Sacred Grove at the Art Institute of Chicago

The Sacred Grove at the Art Institute of Chicago


Last year, this vintage postcard gave unexpected proof that this painting actually exhibited in the Allerton House. A copy of a 1955 letter in the University Archives about Robert Allerton’s request for the loan of the painting gave rise to the research question in the first place. This postcard found on Ebay provided evidence. A catalogue raisonnee of de Chavannes’ works cited by Ryerson Library at the Art Institute of Chicago supplied the missing dates. The Sacred Grove by French painter, Puvis de Chavannes was on loan from the AIC to Allerton House at Robert Allerton Park from May 11, 1955 to October 26, 1962. The Sacred Grove, painted circa 1884, was gifted to the Art Institute in 1922.

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Charioteers and Racing Minds

IMG_3979Two gloved and goggled Park volunteers on scaffolding armed with buckets and hand brushes recently scrubbed the pedestal of a Charioteer. The mild weather and shady location undoubtedly made this task a pleasant one.

A dedicated force of volunteers serve The Park in many capacities and by many talents. Volunteers help to maintain the gardens and trails, to lead or assist in group tours, and to help with special public events, like the recent Prairie Sky music festival and the evening lighted Wellness Walk img_7312that begins in November.

In walking by the couple toiling in their volunteer labors, the history of the Charioteer and these commissioned copies, along with trailing questions, came to mind. Are the two Charioteers at The Park entrance reversed copies? Which arm was originally extended? IMG_3977Informative signage with vintage photograph at the Fu Dog Gazebo provided the answers. The pair of Charioteer appear to have been reversed. Identical to the original Charioteer of Delphi, each Charioteer copy originally had one arm extended as if holding reins. The bronze charioteer (singular) from antiquity is missing his left arm distal from mid-bicep but both arms originally were probably holding reins. When Robert Allerton commissioned the copies, he had the image reversed in the second. In this way, when the pair was installed side to side, each had the outer arm extended. Robert took a certain liberty in interpreting a reversed copy. When Robert disliked the extended outer arms, he asked the artist, Charles Laing, to break off the extended arms to make the figure symmetrical and armless.

Charles Laing, a Scottish stone-cutter who had immigrated to Chicago in the early 1900’s, carved the two charioteers from Indiana limestone. Robert Allerton commissioned a great many sculptural and decorative pieces from Charles Laing. While the Charioteer of Delphi and the Three Graces are copies of famous masterpieces, Laing also chiseled the two Reclining Sphinx. 2013 7 14 SphinxThis female headed lion pair preside over the entrance to the lake and meadow beyond and were executed according to John Borie’s measured hand drawings. Similarly, Laing carved the pair of Primitive Men in monumental size from the small 28 inch plaster model made by British artist, Glyn Primitive Man FeetPhilpot during his 1913 stay at The Farms. Because these two pair are based upon original art work in Robert’s ownership, could these enlarged sculptural pieces be considered original works? They are, at the least, one of a kind hand-made pieces of decorative art.

But, Why the Charioteer? Why did Robert Allerton commission a pair of Charioteer, instead of something else? None of John Gregg Allerton’s interviews or accounts provide details on Robert’s motivation. Robert, himself, left no written or oral history.

In speculation only, the date of the archeological excavation of the Charioteer in Delphi, Greece, coincided with Robert’s European studies. In 1896, when an fortuitous tremor unearthed the bronze statue during an archeological dig, Robert was ending his studies in Munich, Germany, before heading to the mecca of art study abroad, Paris, France. The uncovering of this Greek artifact sparked the Romantic imagination of many impressionable young men pursuing the requisite European tour or study abroad. The Columbia Exposition in Chicago in 1893 set Robert and his friend, Frederic Bartlett, upon this rite of passage together. Robert would abandon his art aspirations in 1898, but Bartlett made art a successful career.

Perhaps Robert was one of the Romantic young men who sped off to witness the unearthing of this Greek treasure uncovered after over 1000 years buried in Delphi. Charioteer 2Was this Charioteer the Bruce (aka Caitlyn) Jenner of his time? What star-power and prestige did the Charioteer command that his athletic victory was commemorated for perpetuity by a large bronze sculptural group of four horses, chariot and rider?

Why did the Charioteer of Delphi resonate with Robert to the point that when he had enough disposable income he indulged not only one hand carved replica of the Greek treasure, but a pair!

John Gregg Allerton pointed out in at least one interview that his father, Robert, liked symmetry and things in pairs.

The visitor to The Park can only speculate on such questions and thoughts that come to mind on a morning’s walk.

Perhaps Robert told himself “I’m going to put a Charioteer on each gate post at the entrance to my estate and every day I’m going to look at them and ….”

Pure speculation only…

Maybe it’s better to just walk at The Park without excessively over-thinking the why’s and what’s……and maybe’s….

The Park is.

We are in The Park.

The Park is within us.

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Music at the Park – Then and Now

Maybe this is Flashback Friday. Before there was a flatbed trailer for a stage, there were folding chairs for performers and a long cord for amplifier and speakers in the Brick Garden. Those were the days….

Music in the Park - July 18, 2008

Music in the Park – July 18, 2008


Local Hot Iron String Band performing on stage at the recent Prairie Sky Music Festival held August 18-19, 2017 at Robert Allerton Park. Bluegrass legends, Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas, concluded the two day event.

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Prairie Sky Festival



What a successful inaugural Prairie Sky Music Festival! Tremendous effort on behalf of all Park staff and volunteers made for a successful event. Workers scurried throughout the week to set up tents, install new electric, groom the gardens, mow the grass, and set up sound and lights along with a bizillion other details.

Each and All of the performers delivered stellar sets. Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas, individually and collectively, showed the receptive crowd why these two artists are considered the top Bluegrass entertainers today. Their levels of musicianship and showmanship displayed with tight vocals wowed the crowd.

The “dance pit” directly in front of the stage was a multi-generational area. Young and old danced – perhaps for different reasons. Sam Bush has been performing over forty years, originally playing with the New Grass Revival before many of the dancers were born! The older participants may have danced in memory of another time. How nice to see that bluegrass music attracts the young generation. The torch is passed.


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Prairie Sky Music Festival – Getting Ready for Kick-Off

The first multiple day music festival at Robert Allerton Park kicks off tomorrow evening, Friday, August 18, 2017. The weather promises cooperation with this inaugural event. Today workers put up the tent to the entrance into the meadow off the new Bulb Garden.

Derek Peterson, Associate Director, points out placement of the stage for tomorrow's festival

Derek Peterson, Associate Director, points out placement of the stage for tomorrow’s festival 

IMG_3955Recently installed electrical service and an improved service entrance offers a new stage placement for the two day event. All seating will slope downhill toward the stage. fullsizeoutput_176aThe Park will be closed to the Public unless ticketed for the event. No outside alcohol is allowed, but beverages and food will be available on site for purchase. If the turnout for Irish Night on August 4th is an indication of public support for music at The Park, Prairie Sky Music Festival attendance may exceed expectations. Associate Director, Derek Peterson has had a vision of this festival and for making Allerton Park a downstate music venue, similar to Ravinia Park in Highland Park, IL. During his eleven years at The Park, he has overseen a renewal and expansion of the monthly summer concerts. And tomorrow, the results of his planning, leadership, work and dedication come to fruition. Don’t miss this musical event in the best local, outdoor music venue. Another reason why we all love Allerton Park.

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