Two years ago today, the Sister and I were breathlessly seated in the very last row at the Public Theater – about to see Hamilton on stage for the first time. In honor of that anniversary, it seemed appropriate to share a little about my long-time history crush and the road that brought us to that room.
It took 5 years to get me into “the room where it happened” – or rather the house where Alexander Hamilton and his family once lived. The morning was bright and cold, and I had followed my friend uptown, navigating icy sidewalks until we arrived at the edge of St. Nicholas Park in Hamilton Heights, Harlem. Nestled in drifts of snow was a cheerfully yellow house built in the Federalist style. It was a Saturday at the end of February 2015, and it was the culmination of a trip I’d convinced my sister to take with me – flying across the country to a New York City still in mid-winter so that I could indulge my history geekery.
An almost magical confluence of events and connections had led to this trip, involving a friend discovering my love of Hamilton and text messages about an upcoming off-Broadway musical that I honestly thought was not real. But the heart of this is my crush for the oft forgotten Founding Father, but that’s a story I have to the start to tell.
My strange crush on Alexander Hamilton began in high school, and like most true loves, it was unexpected and a little inexplicable. I couldn’t tell you what exactly it was that caught my attention, but I quickly developed a fondness for the Founder who couldn’t seem to shut up or stop pissing off other Founders. My friends and I imagined him with this sort of manic energy, always getting into arguments with Jefferson, and Washington, the long-suffering father-figure always having to step in.
After high school, my love for Hamilton did not wane but it became somewhat dormant. After all, it’s hard to be in a fandom of one and my friends and I parted ways to go to college. That’s not to say there weren’t moments when he came back into my life – like when I bonded with a girl in my German class over the Founding Fathers (I don’t know how) and when Ron Chernow’s Hamilton biography became a bestseller and I bought it at a Border’s Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince midnight release party in 2006. While waiting until midnight, I sat in between the shelves and read about Hamilton’s days on Nevis and giggled over descriptions of his “sparkling violet eyes.” (He apparently had quite the stunning gaze.) There was the very first video of “Drunk History” and post-college, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s White House performance that became the opening number of the musical Hamilton.
In 2010 when I visited my college roommate who had moved to New York City, I looked up Hamilton’s house and was sad to find that it was closed for relocation and renovation. The good news though was that it was set to re-open in 2011, and my sister had already announced she wanted to spend her next birthday (2011) in the Big Apple. So I made myself a promise to go see the Grange in a year.
That visit didn’t quite happen. As luck would have it, my 2011 trip to NYC ended literally the day before the Grange was set to re-open to the public at its new spot in St. Nicholas Park. I was only able to stare at it from the outside.
But so began my discovery of the Revolutionary & early U.S. history hidden in the shadows of the skyscrapers in NYC. I think we forget – especially in the U.S., where our history is young in the grander world – that cities are all built on the bones of older cities. It’s especially easy to overlook in a place like New York City because its place in our collective conscious is so modern. It is the quintessential metropolis, but it’s also brimming with early U.S. History.
It never clicked for me that the Revolution happened in New York City – maybe because our conception of NYC tends to skew modern – but it did. Alexander Hamilton studied there, rabble-roused there, lived and died there – as did many other figures from this nation’s founding. So I started looking and learning, and Lin-Manuel’s Hamilton reminded me that history can still be relevant and alive if we only take the time to engage with it.
That Saturday in 2015, inside Hamilton’s house with my sister and friend, I’d spent the past few days inside buildings and on streets where Hamilton had been some 2 centuries before me. It was a little surreal but fitting that I would finally be here, in his foyer giddily chatting with the tour guide about him and his revolutionary compatriots. It felt like I was finally closing a circle on something that had been in the works for the past few years.
After this visit, we dashed downtown to the Public Theater to see the thing Lin-Manuel Miranda had been working on for 6 years. Finally being able to visit Alexander Hamilton’s house, to stand inside his office and look at his books, and then to be confronted with his extraordinary life brought to a dazzling realization on stage by Lin’s genius brain, was the kind of dream ending to a trip I couldn’t have ever expected. By intermission, I felt like “the world will never be the same,” and by the end of the show, I felt lifted, abuzz, and alive.
In no small way, that trip led to the creation of this blog. My history geekery on this trip seemed to interest friends and fellow wanderers, and I thought, wouldn’t that be fun to write about?
Supplements: (Book) Alexander Hamilton | Ron Chernow (Music) The Room Where It Happens | Hamilton OST