On the way to Spfld from Cinci we made a stop. I had to. The drive wasn’t overly long and the speed limit in Indiana (70 mph – thank you Indy!) made it a quick drive but as we got past Champaign and neared Monticello (you can read about Monticello here) I could feel Allerton calling me.
Allerton was a place connected to my growing up in Illinois in deep and significant ways. When I was very young, my parents took me there, I even have pictures from the visit. One of the pictures is of me in all my nerd glory with my glasses that turned darker in sunlight and my big, over-bite grin standing next to a sculpture of the head and torso of a beautiful woman. In the pictures I’ve got my arm around her and my other hand is very subtly pointing at her bare boobs. I was slick.
The whole beautiful park used to be a home with grounds that belonged to a man named Allerton, who filled it with gardens and sculptures. It really is an incredible place. I remember walking the paths with my parents and my brother. We walked past foo dogs in between columns of stone and trees, down into the woods to a bronze bear and up and around paths to the stairway that lead to the “Death of the Last Centaur”. It was Middle-Earth, Narnia and every other fantasy world I read about when I was younger.
When I was in high school our fine arts group went to Allerton. We road in a school bus on a trip we thought would never end. Getting turned loose there with my good friend John and our friends Bob and Jeff and others was like tossing matches on the fuel of our imagination. We were surrounded by the untamed beauty of river and woods, the brilliant blue sky and the thousand variations of the colour green that surrounded us. We were moved by a different kind of beauty in the areas where the man had worked with nature to create structure in flowers and hedges to produce walks and labyrinths and sunken gardens. Placed in and around all of this were works of art from all over the world that showed man’s capacity to reflect the nature of God in the creation of beauty.
We participated with our own act of creation. Before the day was done we ran over the rolling hills in front of the main house with swords, lances and maces (yes, I already said I was a nerd, just embrace it) that we had created from dead tree branches, hacking and swinging them at each other. We had mad skills and free from the constraints of the watchful eyes of the cool back at RHS we let our inner dweebs go wild.
I’m holding all of this in my heart as we step out of our little car and take a brief walk around the Main House. We look at the reflecting pool and count the tadpoles swarming in the water. I turned back to the house and see they’ve removed or at least moved my bare breasted girlfriend. My little family and I walk under huge, old trees and I look over and see Mr. T (the drama teacher not the fool pitier) handing my friend John a gift-wrapped book, a prize for being his favourite and most promising student and though no one else sees what I see these memories have taken root here as surely as the oaks and maples have.
We walk through the gardens all the way down into the sunken garden where I notice a person reading a big, thick book on a cement bench under a blanket of the sacred silence that permeates this space. As we walk back the way we came I peer out through the hedge out towards the lush, green, rolling hills and I can see my 24 year younger self charging with my friends at my back, our tree branch swords drawn and flashing in the sunlight.
Sometimes I wonder, when I’m in places like this, if this is what a haunting really is. A memory or memories filled with energy and emotion so rich that its’ taken on a life of its’ own, events so full of life that a single moment of time couldn’t contain them. My life is marked by a few places like this where all my senses become engaged in the memory. I’ll keep coming back here as long as we travel this way and as long as it’s open to the public and as long as my family is kind enough to indulge me in visiting my haunted places.