The zeitgeist of Broadway is Hamilton the Musical, in which the story of the first secretary of the US treasury, Alexander Hamilton, is told via rap, R&B, Brit pop and other decidedly non-fife-and-drum styles by a mostly African American and Latino cast. It may be a quaint period piece in a few years but for now, it’s revolutionary enough to get its creator/lyricist/composer, Lin Manuel Miranda, a MacArthur genius award. The History Tourist set hasn’t been this worked up about a play since 1776 made its debut almost 50 years ago.
So the weekend before Christmas, I went with my friend Patricia to see Hamilton (tickets are sold out months in advance; we’d gotten ours in August). We took the train and got into New York’s Penn Station before 9 am. Checking into the hotel at that hour wasn’t an option but I’d done some research and knew that we could leave our bags at the Amtrak baggage counter. Which is what we did, for $5 for the entire day (you need to have an Amtrak ticket to use them, though). We could have left our bags at the hotel, but this was so much more convenient.
After we checked our bags , we walked to the other end of Penn Station to the subway, to make our way uptown to tour a couple of Hamilton-related sites. Again, I’d done some homework — studying the NYC subway map and reading the Idiots Guide to the Subway in the Tripadvisor NYC forum — and knew how to buy a ticket, how to use the ticket, and how to maneuver in the subway system. I’d recommend familiarizing yourself with the basics of the subway system before you use it for the first time. And if all else fails, ask for help. Everyone we spoke with was more than willing to point us in the right direction.
Also, some of the stations had beautiful mosaic tilework signs (above courtesy of Patricia) in them.
No stress, my love for you was never in doubt.
We’ll get a little place in Harlem and we’ll figure it out.
That “little place in Harlem” was the Grange, completed in 1802 and named after Alexander’s father’s ancestral home in Scotland. It’s now Hamilton Grange National Memorial, part of the US National Park Service system. Hamilton had only two years there before he was killed in the dual with Aaron Burr, in 1804. He chose the uptown location to protect his family from the yellow fever epidemics that swept areas closer to the port, according to a report on the NPS site. After his death, his family lived on there for the next 30 years. The building later belonged to an uncle of Julia Ward Howe, then to a church, was renovated to accommodate services, and moved a couple of times (though always just a couple of blocks, and always within the original Hamilton property).
Much of the furnishings now in the house belonged to the Hamiltons, returned by various donors. In the dining room, a couple of the chairs are originals and the rest are copies. Alexander bought the piano in the parlor (below) for his eldest daughter, Angelica. The sad story of Angelica: the second of Hamilton’s seven children, she became mentally unbalanced at age 18, after the death of her older brother, Philip (age 19), in a duel.
I read that the number of visitors to Hamilton Grange has gone up 250% in the past year. That’s what being the subject of a hit Broadway musical will do for you. It was packed on the Saturday morning that we were there.
What time is it? Lunch time! We continued the Hamilton theme by going a couple of blocks to a restaurant called The Grange, where we had a typical yuppy brunch experience.
From there, it was back to the subway for a two stop ride to Washington Heights and the home of Hamilton’s protagonist, Aaron Burr.