I started my tour of Hamilton’s life in reverse order, at his grave-site, in Lower Manhattan. Nestled in the modern cityscape at Broadway and Wall Street is Trinity Church and its ancient graveyard, where the dead date to the 17th century and tombstones read like a who’s who of “Hamilton” characters, on whose graves people now place rocks, coins and other mementos. A succulent houseplant was at the foot of Hamilton’s grave on the April morning of my visit.
At Trinity, Eliza’s grave is next to Hamilton’s and Angelica is thought to be in a nearby vault belonging to the influential Livingston family. Hamilton’s friend, the improbably named Hercules Mulligan, is several plots away.
“We don’t have the official numbers, but we anecdotally know that there’s more people that we see in the churchyard” since the musical opened, Trinity spokeswoman Lynn Goswick told me. Case in point: Our conversation was interrupted by a woman inquiring where Hamilton’s son Philip is buried. (He died in a duel more than two years before his father. The church doesn’t know whether he’s in an unmarked grave or plot somewhere nearby.)
My logical next stop was the ancient dueling grounds in Weehawken, N.J.
A quick Uber ride through the Lincoln Tunnel brought me to the cliff-top Hamilton Park, which stretches along the Hudson River and overlooks the bank where Hamilton was mortally wounded by Vice President Aaron Burr. The exact spot — approximately where Philip also was shot — is lost to history. But the picnic-perfect park reveals a phenomenal Manhattan skyline and a nearby bust of Hamilton marks the rough location where the statesman fell. Placed beside the bust is a rock that, according to legend, Hamilton leaned upon after being shot. People now throw pennies on it.
I asked a man who lives in the house directly opposite the bust whether he had witnessed the same Hamilton mania I had observed at the graveyard in Manhattan. No, he said, because New Yorkers think New Jersey is impossibly far away.
“Hamilton did not die in New Jersey, thank God. That is the worst thing that can happen to a New Yorker. They got him back into a boat. He did make it across to the West Village,” said Jimmy Napoli, who leads Hamilton walking tours, including a “Hamilton’s Wall Street” walk I went on. (For the record, I, too, took a boat back across the Hudson, in a ferry named “Alexander Hamilton.”)
At $50, the walk is a fraction of the musical’s price. And unlike Miranda, who gave his final performance as Hamilton on July 9 (the role is now played by his former understudy, Javier Muñoz), Napoli isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, he has been giving Hamilton tours for decades.
“I have great vision and foresight. Twenty years ago, when I became a tour guide, I said to myself, ‘It’s just a matter of time before somebody writes a hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton, and I’m going to be on the ground floor when that happens,’ ” Napoli told my tour group of seven with a laugh. He then went on to pull history from the pavement for three hours, explaining where critical events happened and the founding fathers once lived, spots now mostly covered by high-rise buildings.
With his fast-paced New York gusto, Napoli’s could be the second best “Hamilton” show in town.
His favorite tour spot is Federal Hall, site of the First U.S. Congress, as well as the first Supreme Court and executive branch offices. But for me, the highlight was the room where it happens, the very location where Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Hamilton held a private meeting in which the two Virginians agreed to round up congressional support for Hamilton’s plan for national assumption of state debts in return for Hamilton rounding up support to move the capital to Washington. The room, which was in Jefferson’s house, no longer exists, built over by yet another office building.
My next stop would be a house with rooms where a lot of things happened: the only home Hamilton ever owned, his Grange estate. But not before saying goodbye to my tour at Fraunces Tavern, where the nascent Treasury Department once leased rooms and both Burr and Hamilton attended a meeting one week before their duel.
Over lunch, William Carter, a dad from Fredericksburg, Va., who brought his teenage daughter, Kayla, told us how at first he had doubts: “I said ‘Rap and Hamilton? How dare you,’ ” but then was won over.
As Napoli put it, not only has Miranda “made Hamilton cool with the kids, I’ve got 80-year-old women from the South rapping in my face, which is really surreal.”
With that, I headed uptown to the Grange, Hamilton’s Federal-style house in Harlem in the shadows of what today is the City College of New York.
“Our visitation numbers have skyrocketed since the play came out and the demographics of the people have changed,” said park guide Gregory Mance, who explained that history majors and school groups have given way to “everybody.”
GUEST: Excuse me, do you know if in New York there is a, how to say, holocaust? CONCIERGE: I’m sorry? GUEST: Holocaust. CONCIERGE: …Holocaust? GUEST: Holocaust. CONCIERGE: …The Jewish History Museum is New York City’s Holocaust memorial. It’s in lower Manhattan. GUEST: There is a holocaust in Manhattan? This is good news! I am told there is no New York City holocaust except Coney Island. CONCIERGE: (silent moment of deep confusion) GUEST: How much cost? CONCIERGE: It’s $12 for adults. GUEST: Ah. Is expensive? CONCIERGE: For museums in New York, it’s low. GUEST: Museum? No. No museum. Is, for fun. With children. (throws hands up) “Weeee!!” CONCIERGE: What?! GUEST: Holocaust. CONCIERGE: Please stop saying “holocaust.” CONCIERGE: (actually said) I’m sorry?? GUEST: Holocausta. Holocaustar. Holocauster. CONCIERGE: (smacks face) Roller coaster. Yes. There’s a roller coaster in Coney Island.