It’s Quiet Uptown

IMG_4251

A rainy Sunday outing to the Hamilton Grange National Memorial left me a little too excited.

In the second act of Lin Manuel Miranda’s Revolutionary (ha ha ha) musical, ‘Hamilton,’ the title character and his wife, grieving from the loss of their son, move to uptown Manhattan to learn to deal with their pain. The song itself, “It’s Quiet Uptown,” gives us a snapshot of this grief, set to the backdrop of Manhattan in the early 1800s, when everything north of Canal Street was still farmland.

It’s strange to picture Manhattan being anything but skyscrapers and brownstones, yet beneath the concrete of the city’s present lies hints to its past—one most relevant in the Hamilton Grange National Memorial, the preserved home of our favorite founding father, Alexander Hamilton.

This house, located now on the northern edge of St. Nicolas Park at 141st Street in Hamilton Heights, is the only home Hamilton owned during his lifetime. It was designed by architect John McComb Jr. and completed in 1802, just two years before Hamilton died in a duel against then Vice President, Aaron Burr.

IMG_4249

A statue of Alexander Hamilton stands at the site of the second location for his home.

Over the last 200 plus years, the historic memorial has moved twice, once in 1889 when it was acquired by nearby St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, who moved the house next to the church on Convent Ave. The house was moved a second time in 2008 to its current location, where historic preservationists and the U.S. National Parks Service restored the home based on original design blueprints. It now stands as a museum commemorating the life and legacy of Hamilton.

I’ve already written about my love (obsession?) for Manuel’s musical depiction of Hamilton’s story, so I won’t repeat myself. But what really brought me up to the Grange this past weekend was a craving for a little exploration. My timing was a little too perfect—Hamilton’s birthday is today (January 11), and because of the rain yesterday, the usual crowds that have flocked to the memorial since the show’s success all decided to stay indoors for the day, leaving me with a chance to have a private, intimate experience with the former home of my historic crush.

In terms of historic preservation and replication, the Hamilton Grange National Memorial transports you right back to the 1800s, when farmland would surround the home, and the commute to downtown took an hour and half by horse and carriage (today, you can get to the Financial District in roughly the same time, just by subway instead of carriage). Original pieces once owned by Hamilton mingle with replicas—Philip Hamilton’s original piano, where he and his younger sister, Angelica, would play duets together still rests in the sitting room, while Alexander’s office captures that energy you would expect from a man who played such a vital role in the creation of our country.

Still, the most interesting part of the tour is the story of moving this building. As it was handed over to the care of the National Parks Service, they carefully planned to raise the entire house in one piece over the church, and then onto the hill. That alone, is terrifying to execute—one slip and you could lose this historic landmark. And yet, with careful maneuvering, and very strong equipment, the move was successful and we now have the ability to experience a piece of history (and maybe drop a few song lyrics during the guided tour).

IMG_4236

Alexander Hamilton was born on January 11, 1789. To celebrate, the National Parks Service set out a card to sign at the Hamilton Grange National Memorial.

For my fellow urban hikers, this is a great way to spend a day—Hamilton Heights in itself is a gorgeous area, with plenty of sights to see. I’d suggest starting at the Grange and poking around there first, then moving on to some simple wandering around the neighborhood until you stumble upon a cute café for lunch.

And for my fellow Hamilton Heads—indulge yourself in an hour of historic obsessing over the fact that you are standing on the same foundation where that young, scrappy, and hungry man once lived.

‘Hamilton’ on My Mind

Our rappin' founding fathers.

Our Rappin’ Founding Fathers.

How does a Broadway superstar, adding to his repertoire, transform the tale of a founding father into a hip-hop legend selling out every night? Ok, so I tried to rhyme against Lin-Manuel’s Miranda’s narrative beat from his hit Broadway show, ‘Hamilton,’ but unfortunately I don’t think I have the creativity to write for the stage. But that doesn’t mean I can’t gawk at the sheer brilliance of Miranda’s latest sell out hit.

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last few months, I’m referring to ‘Hamilton,’ a hip-hop musical that tells the story of our “Ten Dollar Founding Father,” Alexander Hamilton, and his contributions to the American Revolution and the birth of the United States. It’s a mix of rap narrative, meshed with hip hop/ pop numbers that will leave you humming the tune every hour of the day, all while teaching you about the start of our country. I never thought I’d see the day when American history would seem sexy to me, but then again, you never know with today’s creative minds.

I’m not sure if I can pinpoint my favorite part of this musical—since I discovered the soundtrack on Spotify last week it’s been the only thing I’ve listened to (unfortunately tickets are sold out or insanely expensive all the way into July 2016, so unless you are Beyonce of Obama, you are stuck listening to the recordings). If I’m being honest, ‘Hamilton’ is the only thing I’ve TALKED about in the past week, hence why I was compelled to write about it. I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more Alexander Hamilton.

I’ve listened to the entire album start to finish more times than I can count. Work, subway, before bed, it’s really consumed my life. I’ve over-analyzed every line, researched every battle, and I figured the easiest way to discuss it was in list form, since I’ve had a piece of paper by my desk for three days where I jot down ideas about why I love this so much.

  1. Immigration Pride. ‘Hamilton,’ while it may be about the start of our nation, has many themes that are still relevant today. Most notably, the theme of immigrants coming to this country to make a name for his or herself rings through every song. America was founded by immigrants, it relies on immigrants, and sometimes we forget that. But one of the things that makes me most proud to be an American is that you can come to this country and work your way up—we’re not perfect yet, we’re still fighting for full equality, but we have more opportunities than other countries. ‘Hamilton’ reminds us just how important this truth is.
  1. Strong female characters. The Schuyler Sisters are pretty badass. Especially that Angelica, who knew how to work a crowd to get what she needed, but will also fight for her sister before anyone else—even herself. And you have to love her best line in that catchy, all-girl soul number—“We hold these truths to be self-evident/ That all men are created equal/And when I meet Thomas Jefferson/ I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel!”
  1. Aaron Burr. As the narrator of the tale, Burr kind of has this Antonio Salieri vibe—Hamilton was this young, unknown name who quickly rose in the ranks. You can sense that jealously and tension as Burr and Hamilton’s relationship progresses, much like Salieri felt over Mozart in the classic film, ‘Amadeus.’ Of course, we know how the story ends, in a duel between the two men that (spoilers) ends Hamilton’s life, but the story is so well told in this musical that the final songs bring you to tears. And you feel for Burr—like in the song “The World Was Wide Enough,” he says his decision to shoot Hamilton made him the villain of the story, even if he wasn’t the worst person ever. (Related: there is an Aaron Burr card in Cards Against Humanity and I hope to God I get that during my annual Christmas Eve game with my extended family).
  1. The lyrics. Miranda is a lyrical genius. I’m not throwing that term out lightly either—it’s a rare thing to really see the story through just the words, and yet in every battle scene, every argument that I listen to in the story, I can see it in front of me. In “Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down),” you can see the surrender as the man in the red coat stands on that parapet (also, who else looked up parapet when they heard that part?). You can see King George prancing around in his hilarious numbers. And when some of the characters get their shouts outs (Hercules Mulligan! Lafayette!) you want to stand up and cheer with them. The words alone bring you back to the 1700 and 1800s, just with a badass twist.
  1. Leaving a Legacy. Hamilton is obsessed throughout the musical about what his name will mean after he dies. “Non-Stop” really plays this with the line “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?” Of course it’s dramatized a bit since we know what happens to him, but it still shows truth behind how much the real Alexander Hamilton worked to help this nation before his early death. And as Alex says, ‘a legacy is planting flowers in a garden we never see.’

To be honest, I didn’t know much about Alexander Hamilton before this musical—I had to take some time to research each battle and his role in the American Revolution. But Miranda’s work is doing what so many history teachers have tried to do—make history cool.

    I've become so enamored with 'Hamilton' I get emotional over the ten dollar bill.

    I’ve become so enamored with ‘Hamilton’ I get emotional over the ten dollar bill.