'Hamilton' Fans Pilgrimage To Founding Father's Once-Forgotten Grave

Jun 3, 2016
Originally published on June 3, 2016 7:15 pm

Tucked amid the tumult of Lower Manhattan's Financial District, right across from a factory-outlet shoe store promising "probably" the lowest prices in the city, you'll find Alexander Hamilton's grave. With the explosive popularity of the Broadway musical Hamilton, that grave is seeing a surge of new fans coming to pay respects to the Founding Father.

Lillian Hasko has seen the musical twice, bought the soundtrack, and felt compelled to make the pilgrimage downtown.

"I wanted to see him and pay homage to him," she says, "because he is a forgotten founding father, I think. Never got to be president, and died so young!"

Thanks to the musical, he's forgotten no more.

Hamilton was just 47 when he was killed in the infamous 1804 duel with Aaron Burr. He's buried in the cemetery of Trinity Church, where he owned a pew (No. 92), and where five of his eight children were baptized. His grave is marked by an elegant white marble pyramid, surrounded by four urns. Visitors leave offerings on top of the base: roses, lilies, pebbles and coins.

His widow Eliza, who outlived Hamilton by 50 years, is buried at the foot of his monument.

"She tends to get more gifts than he does," notes Trinity archivist Anne Petrimoulx. "I think the musical makes people identify more with Eliza than with Alex."

Alex?

"We're close," Petrimoulx says with a laugh. "We're tight!"

Self-described history nerd Stacy Kmentt of Chicago has come to the cemetery as part of what she calls her "pilgrHAMage" — "ham" as in "Hamilton." She's been making the rounds of various Hamilton historic spots in the city, and here she slips off her canvas shoes and places them gently on Eliza's grave for a quick photo.

She's written a message on them in cursive, using gold, acrylic glitter paint. On one shoe, she's written "who lives, who dies"; on the other, "who tells your story?" It's the title of the final song of the musical, the big emotional finish of Hamilton.

"Just how much he accomplished in his short life is phenomenal," Kmentt says.

And that observation provides a handy motivational tool. Just think: WWHD? Kmentt agrees. "Every time I'm sitting around doing something lazy, I'm like, 'what would Hamilton be doing?' He would not be sitting around watching endless YouTube videos or Netflix, that's for sure!"

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

What the movie "Sideways" did for wine tourism in Santa Barbara County the musical "Hamilton" is doing for all things connected to that founding father. Here's NPR's Melissa Block with a graveside postcard from New York.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: Maybe like me, you have someone in your household playing the "Hamilton" soundtrack non-stop.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "HAMILTON")

LESLIE ODOM JR: (As Aaron Burr, singing) Man, the man is non-stop.

LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: (As Alexander Hamilton, rapping) Gentleman of the jury -

KIRA KLINOSKY: (Rapping) Gentlemen of the jury, I'm curious. Bear with me.

BLOCK: Meet the Klinosky (ph) kids of Phoenix.

KIRA: (Rapping) This is the first murder trial of our brand-new nation, the liberty behind deliberation.

BLOCK: Fourteen-year-old Kira and her 13-year-old brother, Michael, are "Hamilton" fanatics.

KIRA: (Singing) I've been in Paris meeting lots of different ladies, I guess basically missed the late...

MICHAEL KLINOSKY: (Singing) ...Late '80s. Traveled the wide, wide world and came back to this.

BLOCK: Their parents have scored tickets to the musical. And as prelude, they've all made a pilgrimage to Alexander Hamilton's grave. He's buried in the cemetery of Trinity Church in lower Manhattan, across from a factory shoe outlet. An elegant white marble pyramid marks his tomb, inscribed on the base these words - a statesman whose talents and virtues will be admired...

ANNE PETRIMOULX: ...Long after this marble shall have moldered into dust.

BLOCK: That's Trinity archivist Anne Petrimoulx.

PETRIMOULX: He died July 12, 1804, aged 47.

BLOCK: Killed in that notorious duel with Aaron Burr. Petrimoulx says thanks to the musical, she's been seeing a lot more visitors streaming by Hamilton's grave, and she's been hearing a lot less wrong information.

PETRIMOULX: Before when I would give tours, people would say, oh, he was president, right? No. But I think people know now - secretary of the treasury.

BLOCK: Visitors have left offerings on Hamilton's grave - lilies and iris, pebbles and coins. And on his wife Eliza's grave, too. It's marked by a simple marble slab in front of his monument.

PETRIMOULX: She tends to get more gifts than he does. She has a very beautiful array of flowers on her grave. I don't know if the musical makes people identify more with Eliza than with Alex.

BLOCK: You call him Alex?

PETRIMOULX: Yeah, we're close. We're tight (laughter).

BLOCK: Among those gazing at Hamilton's grave I find Lillian Hasko.

LILLIAN HASKO: (Rapping) Just like my country, I'm young, scrappy and hungry. I'm not giving away my shot.

BLOCK: She's seen the musical twice, bought the soundtrack, had to come.

HASKO: I wanted to see him and pay homage to him because he is a forgotten founding father. And then never got to be president, and died so young.

BLOCK: So he's not forgotten anymore.

HASKO: No, but I was looking for the sister. Eliza's over there. Alexandra, I think, is not here. I can't find her.

BLOCK: Angelica.

HASKO: Angelica, yeah. (Singing) Angelica, Eliza - I should know the words, and I do.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "HAMILTON")

RENEE ELISE GOLDSBERRY: (As Angelica Schuyler, singing) Angelica.

PHILLIPA SOO: (As Eliza Schuyler, singing) Eliza.

JASMINE CEPHAS JONES: (As Peggy Schuyler, singing) And Peggy.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) The Schuyler sisters.

GOLDSBERRY: (As Angelica Schuyler, singing) Angelica.

JONES: (As Peggy Schuyler, singing) Peggy.

SOO: (As Eliza Schuyler, singing) Eliza.

BLOCK: Ah, the mystery of Angelica's grave. Where's Angelica? That's the hot question at Trinity. In case you're wondering, she's buried on the other side of the church in a vault bearing the name Livingston. At the end of my visit, I meet Stacy Kmentt in from Chicago, a self-described history nerd and "Hamilton" obsessive.

STACY KMENTT: This is my pilgrhamage (ph) - P-I-L-G-R-H-A-M-A-G-E.

BLOCK: H-A-M as in Hamilton. I watch as Stacy slips off her canvas shoes and places them gently on Eliza's grave for a quick photo. Not just any shoes - she's written a message on them in neat cursive.

KMENTT: I wrote it in sharpie and then I took, like, acrylic glitter paint and, like, painted over it.

BLOCK: On one shoe she's written, who lives, who dies? On the other, who tells your story? It's from the final song of the musical, the big, emotional finish.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "HAMILTON")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Who lives, who dies? Who tells your story?

BLOCK: Melissa Block, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "HAMILTON")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Will they tell your story? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.