As historian of Robert Allerton, how is research conducted when there is little archived material that comes from the man directly? We are made privy to Robert’s personal correspondence only through the archives of another – Roger Quilter, Henry James, Florence Koehler, Ellen Emmet, Jane Emmet and Wilfred de Glehn and the University.
The intangibility of Robert’s archived voice taunts and teases. This intangibility leads to the romantic mystery and creates the Allerton Legacy – a mix of fact, anecdote and urban legend.
On July 10, 2014, my spouse and I made a Field Trip to Chicago to explore Frederic Bartlett sites of importance.
After an extremely hard right turn into the cemetery gates, Chicago vanished. This manicured park offers a list of all Chicago’s famous Who’s Who at the turn of the century. The
mausoleums, headstones, grave decorations and otherwise last resting places were also designed or built by the leading Who’s Who.
Frederic’s first and third wives, Dora and Evelyn respectively, have grave markers adjacent to Frederic’s. All three markers are rectangular pink granite measuring about 12 x 18 inches. Frederic’s second wife, Helen Birch Bartlett is interred in this family plot but is not aligned with Frederic. One source indicated his second wife was initially interred at another cemetery. Her headstone is in the same decorative cross style as her brother’s. Other markers in the Bartlett plot include Frederic’s son by his first wife.
In another section of Graceland Cemetery is the Allerton family plot. Samuel Allerton’s gravestone is embraced by those of his two wives. His first wife, Kate Agnes, was Robert’s mother. Samuel’s second wife, Pamilla, was Kate’s sister. The Allerton plot also holds Robert’s sister and nephew.
Second stop on the Field Trip was to Astor and Goethe streets in the near North Gold Coast area of Chicago.
In 1929, Robert Allerton along with the Potter Palmers was among the tenants in one of Chicago’s first condominiums to be built. This building on the Northeast corner of Astor and Goethe streets still stands today as residential unit.
Third stop of the day (after lunch at The Weiner Circle) was to Second Presbyterian Church at 1936 S. Michigan on the city’s near South side.
When this church was rebuilt in 1905 after suffering fire, Frederic Bartlett, a member of the church, painted decorative murals. He applied painted canvas to the ceilings in each window niche and the walls behind the altar. Some of these panels have been restored to their original brightness. Frederic used this same technique to hang painted canvas to Robert Allerton’s music room ceiling (now the Library).
One panel in the church is getting unstuck and curling from the plaster. What was remarkable about this curled painted cannvas was its thickness. The paintings themselves have only the normally expected century old cracking of canvas oils.
The painted surface of the church murals is dirty but intact.
Each year, the Friends of 2nd Presbyterian Church host an event of historical interest to the Church. This year’s event took place on October 23rd. The theme of the night focused on Social Customs and Dress of the Women of the 1900’s in the Prairie Avenue neighborhood and included a presentation and book signing. Prairie Avenue, that runs parallel to Michigan Avenue, was the best Chicago neighborhood at the turn of the 20th Century. Many of the up and coming Chicago industrialists made their home on or in this neighborhood – the Samuel Allerton’s (Union Stockyards and the First National Bank of Chicago), the Adolphe Bartlett’s (True Value), the Armour’s (meat packing) resided there. Frederic and Robert were childhood friends from these Prairie Avenue haunts.
The Prairie Avenue neighborhood soon gave way to the Gold Coast of the Upper North side as the desired place to live. The encroachment of industrial development leads to an exodus of residents and the demolition of many most of the original homes. Robert Allerton’s childhood home was sold and demolished after Samuel’s death in 1914. A hairpin factory was built in its place. Two original residences have been saved and are open for public tour; they are well worth the time to visit.
The examination of the Bartlett murals at the 2nd Presbyterian Church reignited thoughts about whether the saved murals were still behind the bookcase in 1984, and their whereabouts now? If their discovery was made after John Gregg’s revelation, it was made in silence. Given the thickness of the Bartlett canvas at the church and the almost archival conditions of their storage area in the Allerton mansion, the canvases should have been well preserved. The three ladies of Friends of 2nd Presbyterian at the church that day were most hospitable. They had never heard of the Frederic Bartlett connection to Robert Allerton. They inquired as to the whereabouts of the painted ceiling murals and were disappointed to learn that they are no longer in possession of Allerton Park. They related that they were interested in organizing an event featuring loaned Bartlett works or even a “walk” to include a home where original Bartlett murals remain in place.
Field Trip over it was time to enjoy Taste of Chicago and a beautiful summer’s night outdoors.