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In 1922 Robert Allerton—described by the Chicago Tribune as the “richest bachelor in Chicago”—met a twenty-two-year-old University of Illinois architecture student named John Gregg, who was twenty-six years his junior.
Virtually inseparable from then on, they began publicly referring to one another as father and son within a couple years of meeting. In 1960, after nearly four decades together, and with Robert Allerton nearing ninety, they embarked on a daringly nonconformist move: Allerton legally adopted the sixty-year-old Gregg as his son, the first such adoption of an adult in Illinois history.
An Open Secret tells the striking story of these two iconoclasts, locating them among their queer contemporaries and exploring why becoming father and son made a surprising kind of sense for a twentieth-century couple who had every monetary advantage but one glaring problem: they wanted to be together publicly in a society that did not tolerate their love. Deftly exploring the nature of their design, domestic, and philanthropic projects, Nicholas L. Syrett illuminates how viewing the Allertons as both a same-sex couple and an adopted family is crucial to understanding their relationship’s profound queerness. By digging deep into the lives of two men who operated largely as ciphers in their own time, he opens up provocative new lanes to consider the diversity of kinship ties in modern US history.
Author: Nicholas L. Syrett
Paperback Published 1 June 2021 224 pages