Last Thursday was an absolutely beautiful spring day so it was a perfect day for walking around Manhattan and finding out more about Alexander Hamilton.
I’d signed up for a curator tour of the Museum of the City of New York’s Picturing Prestige: New York Portraits, 1700-1860 exhibit. The tour was going to focus on the portraits of Eliza and Alexander Hamilton. Since the tour was only an hour in the middle of the day, I decided to fill out the day with other Hamilton exhibits and sites throughout the city.
First stop was Trinity Church at Broadway and Wall Street. I was also going to stop by St. Paul’s to see more colonial graves but didn’t have time plus it’s across the street from the World Trade Center and being in that area still makes me incredibly sad. You can see the grave marker for Alexander Hamilton from street and I’d passed by it many many times. It was 9am and I waited for two tour groups to pass by the grave before I walked over to check it out.
And right next to him is the best of wives and the best of women.
I knew that Hercules Mulligan was also buried in the churchyard but I never found his grave. I did find Albert Gallatin, who was the Secretary of Treasury under Jefferson and Madison and had tried to dismantle the work that Hamilton had done (under Jefferson’s direction) and told Jefferson that it was not possible. (Gallatin was also the founder of New York University.)
The oldest gravestone is Richard Churcher from 1681.
The cemetery is a quiet oasis in the middle of NYC’s financial district.
The church is beautiful inside and out.
A few blocks up, past Federal Hall is the Museum of American Finance. The steps at Federal Hall are lined in orange now and I don’t like it.
The museum sits where the Bank of New York used to be. The Bank of New York was established by Alexander Hamilton in 1784. The first exhibit you see is about gold – the ways gold is used and the ways it influences our lives. Other exhibits are the history of currency in the US, financial markets, banking in America, entrepreneurs, and then there’s the Alexander Hamilton Room.
Commodities – sugar has fallen:
I’m guessing that the work of the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society is a lot easier now.
Like me, there was another couple in the room, who were amazed at all the things that Hamilton accomplished. So many things that they couldn’t mention them all in the musical (and a lot that were). The man asked the woman, “Did you know Hamilton wrote Washington’s Farewell Address,” and she responded, “Yes. It’s in the second act.” Since Lin-Manuel Miranda took some of his lyrics from Hamilton’s own language, you can’t help but start singing some of the songs while you’re reading his correspondence.
Walking back to the subway so I could head uptown, there now was a group outside Federal Hall saying that Obama and the perpetrators of 9/11 are working together to start WWIII – read the 28 pages. I love America.
Took the #6 to 110th Street and walked across Tito Puente Way to Fifth Avenue and then down to the Museum of the City of New York. There are several good exhibits happening right now but unfortunately I didn’t have time to view them but I’ll be back to see both the Roz Chast Cartoon Memoirs and New York’s Yiddish Theater.
The first two portraits the curator brought us to were Eliza and Alexander Hamilton. Eliza’s was painted at City Hall by Ralph Earl, who was in debtor’s prison. Hamilton had formed a society to help debtors and Earl paid off his debt by painting portraits while in jail.
Hamilton’s portrait was posthumous, painted by John Trumbull, who used a painting he had previously done of Hamilton and a bust done by Giuseppe Ceracchi (Both of those originals are at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art – the Walmart museum – and I’d find out more about both of those at the Grange). The portrait is probably the most well-known of Hamilton and believed by the family to be the best likeness. The painting is really beautiful – it looks like there’s a spotlight on Hamilton’s face.
Next to the Hamiltons are two portraits of George Washington. One is a Gilbert Stuart and the other had been identified as a Stuart but is not. The museum has heavily researched the portrait and cannot identify the painter. Portraits were not signed until the late 19th century so there are several portraits in the exhibit that can’t be identified or used to be misidentified. It was not unusual for a portrait to be copied by other painters so that the portrait could be shared by other family members. There is another portrait next to the Hamiltons of a Founding Father (can’t remember who) and it was also misidentified as a Stuart but is a copy of a Stuart. You can tell it’s a copy because in the original the subject is holding a copy of the Constitution (you can read it) but in the copy the paper is blank. Many of the colonial and early American portraits are by John Singleton Copley and there are other painters who copied his style and some were mistaken for a Copley.
The exhibit runs from colonial times to 1860. After 1860 the museum has very few portraits. One of the reasons is probably the introduction of photography. While the curator was describing the miniatures, I felt faint and sat down for a bit. I realized I hadn’t had anything to eat all day. But I stayed for the entire tour. The miniatures are swapped out every few weeks because they are very sensitive to the light. There are portraits of politicians and businessmen and their families. One wall is the Brooks Brothers’ families.
I stopped off in the museum café for quick sandwich and drink. I immediately felt better but I wish the food had been better.
Hamilton Grange is located in Harlem at 141st Street and Hamilton Terrace (right off St. Nicholas Avenue).
The tour started at 4pm and I was there early. I could have gone upstairs and done a self-tour but decided to wait. Downstairs was a film about Hamilton and a small exhibit (by now I felt like an expert). The portrait of Hamilton in the film is the Trumbull from the Museum of the City of New York. Again I find out about Hamilton forming the Bank of New York, being the first Secretary of the Treasury, forming a national bank (becoming the Federal Reserve), forming the US Coast Guard, Customs, the New York Post, resigning from the Treasury but called back as Washington’s second-in-command in which he trained an army and that became West Point.
The house was Hamilton’s dream. It was finished in 1802 and stood on property he purchased in what was then New Harlem – about 9 miles from New York City. It took Hamilton one and one-half hours to get from his country house to NYC. Hamilton died two years later and Eliza stays for a few years but then sells the home. It goes through a series of different owners. Then in 1889, upper Manhattan becomes part of the grid system of streets. The house is in the way and is given to a church and is moved two blocks away. This move is accomplished by horses and logs. During the move the house is damaged and it sinks in the middle. The house is put in sideways so they can have services there. Eventually a proper church is built on one side and an apartment building on the other. The home is used as a museum and then sold to an historical society, who give it to the Nationl Parks Service in 1962. In 2008 the house is moved again – hydraulics are used to move it up and over the church and then driven to a corner of St. Nicholas Park one and one-half blocks away (there is a film we watch). It now sits on the southeast corner of what was Hamilton’s original property. It took three years to restore the Grange and the cost of the move and restoration was $15 million. Right now there are no front steps because they are being restored. The front steps originally faced south and you could see NYC from them. Now the steps face north. The house now sits on a basement. Hamilton originally took 13 gum (union) trees from Mt. Vernon and planted them at the Grange. By the time of the first move, the trees were almost dead. The Parks Service has purchased 13 new gum trees and planted them at the new location.
We walk into the parlor and the first thing you notice is the piano. I’m thrilled to learn that it’s the original piano. The piano that Angelica Schuyler Church sent from England to her niece Angelica Hamilton, who used to play it all the time and sing with her brother Philip. After Philip’s death, his sister loses her mind and continues to play Philip’s favorite songs on the piano and talk about him as if he were alive.
The house if filled with period pieces with only a few original Hamilton pieces. The silver tray in the middle of the dining room table belonged to the Hamiltons. It is mirrored to reflect the light. The doors to the dining room are also mirrored for the same reason. The rugs were made for the restored home on looms, just as they would have been made during the Hamiltons’ time. The pattern is from that period and you can see the seams from where the rug is sewed together since the loom isn’t that large. The four wine cooler is a gift from Washington (and I believe the original). He gifted them the cooler when they were going through a rough time (after the Reynolds Pamphlet was released). The portrait of Eliza is another Earl. The originals of the portraits are at Crystal Bridges. The Stuart portrait of Washington, the four wine cooler, and Hamilton’s bust are the three items that Eliza took with her wherever she lived. She liked to touch Hamilton’s face on the bust as she walked by.
The home is in the Federal style built by John McComb, Jr, who also designed City Hall, Gracie Mansion, and Castle Clinton. Everything balances. The three windows in the parlor are the same as the three windows opposite them in the dining room. There are four chimneys but only two fireplaces – the other two chimneys are for balance. The windows are triple-hung – it was the way you went out of the house onto the porch so they are floor to ceiling.
Hamilton’s study is bright green. That was the original color. It was expensive at the time because copper was used to get the color. No one knows why he chose that color – it’s the only time it’s used in the house. The desk and portable desk are reproductions. The original desk is at the Museum of the City of New York.
When you enter the front hall from outside the first thing you see is the bust of Hamilton. Ceracchi had approached several of the Founding Fathers about doing busts. He did terracotta masks of them and went back to Italy and came back a few years later with all the busts. What he didn’t tell them was that they weren’t gifts and he charged each of them for their bust. Hamilton’s cost $950, which was a lot of money for them. They did pay it off but it was difficult for the family. Washington was given two busts that cost $1500 and after a short time he decided they weren’t worth the price and returned them.
When we first entered the front room the guide asked if we knew who the bust was. I was going to say Hamilton but other people started shouting out different names so I kept my mouth shut. Turned out I was correct. And the guide said that most people guess incorrectly. I don’t see how – it looks just like Hamilton.
The original of the Hamilton portrait from the front room is a Trumbull and is at Crystal Bridges.
Some of the glass in door and the front windows are old but no one knows if it’s original.
The floor in the front room is oilcloth that is painted and lacquered, just as it would have been done in the Hamiltons’ time.
We weren’t allowed upstairs because it was unsafe. Also, the Parks Dept did not know which room was whose.
And with that my Hamilton day was over. It was time to go back downtown, grab some dinner, and go over to Irving Plaza to see the Old 97’s.
By Carene Lydia Lopez