It's refreshing to see people talking about New Jersey and travel not to be talking about corruption and/or incompetence at Newark International Airport.
Want to see Hamilton? Nothing easier.
What — you thought we meant the smash Broadway show? Dream on. With ticket “get in” prices in the thousands of dollars and the show sold out through January 2017, the Broadway phenomenon “Hamilton” — up for a record-setting 16 Tonys Sunday (8 p.m., CBS) — is not likely to show up on the average person’s to-do list anytime soon.
The good news is that you can see Hamilton free — any day of the week.
He’s gazing, rapt, at the Paterson Great Falls, in the national park in the city he conceived. Paterson’s life-size statue by Franklin Simmons, placed there in 1905, is drawing more tourists these days, as Hamilton-mania grips North Jersey and the nation.
“I heard from the TV that the show was very successful,” David Chen told The Record. The visitor from Westchester County, N.Y., came with friends to see the statue and falls on a recent Tuesday.
Or you can see the nation’s first treasury secretary at Weehawken — site of the infamous duel — where his bust has the entire skyline of Manhattan for a backdrop.
“All I know is what I read on the plaque here — that he got into a duel with someone named Burr,” says Jose Febus, a West New York resident who graduated from Fort Lee High School in 2005.
But he knows about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s game-changing 2015 musical hit — which uses a hip-hop vernacular and a cast of color to relate the saga of the old-school (18th century) playa whose ideas about tariffs, trade, a strong centralized federal government, immigrant labor and a national bank were totally off the hook, yo.
“Hamilton,” in its way, has become part of this year’s raucous election-year conversation about multiculturalism, immigration and the nature of the United States. “It’s definitely a country of immigrants,” says Febus, who is of Puerto Rican descent. “That’s what the Statue of Liberty is all about.”
No one could be happier about “Hamilton’s” success than the boosters of local towns, all over North Jersey, where Hamilton left footprints, The Record newspaper reported. From Wayne, Ho-Ho-Kus and River Edge, where he stayed as General Washington’s staff aide, to Morristown, where he wooed his sweetheart Elizabeth Schuyler, to Paterson, the proto-industrial town that was Hamilton’s vision for the future of America, there’s no shortage of local sites that own a piece of him.
“I think Hamilton is having a moment, and we see this as a moment for Paterson, too,” says Leonard Zax, president of Hamilton Partnership for Paterson and the man who wrote the legislation that got Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park established in 2011.
“The city’s founder has suddenly turned into the hippest, coolest Founding Father of them all,” Zax says.
It wasn’t always so. For years, Zax and others have bemoaned the fact that Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father on the $10 bill, got scant respect.
To people who thought about him at all, Hamilton was Mr. Wall Street, The Establishment personified, the patron saint of all the guys in three-piece suits (it was in 1929, in the boom before the Wall Street bust, that Hamilton got his mug on the $10 bill). Hardly a romantic figure. His antagonists seemed far more attractive: Thomas Jefferson, the dreamer who wrote about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and Aaron Burr, the scalawag hero of Gore Vidal’s 1973 bestseller.
“All of these things swing with the national mood of what is acceptable,” says Kevin Wright, past president of the Bergen County Historical Society, headquartered at Historic New Bridge Landing Park in River Edge. And yes, Hamilton stayed there (a letter exists, in his hand, dated Sept. 12, 1780, from Steuben House).
“We’re in an age where the perspectives looking backward have changed dramatically, since the civil rights movement,” Wright says.
In recent years, Jefferson’s stock has gone down — in the wake of revelations about his mixed-race mistress Sally Hemmings and his two-faced attitude toward slavery. Meanwhile, the 200th anniversary of the Weehawken duel in 2004 and the emergence of several popular Hamilton histories, including 1999’s “Alexander Hamilton, American” by Richard Brookhiser and especially 2004’s “Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow (the basis for the “Hamilton” musical), have led to a much more lively picture: of a self-made West Indian immigrant of doubtful parentage, a man who saw that the future of America was dynamic, urban, multicultural.
“Previously, it was the image of banks and stock markets and finance,” says Rand Scholet, president and founder of the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society (AHA for short), founded in 2011 in Florida. “Now it’s the image of immigrants, the American Dream, education, working hard, respecting people of different backgrounds. All the things that were put in place to empower people.”
That’s the Hamilton of Miranda’s musical, for which he wrote lyrics, music, book (he also is the star; he’s announced he’s leaving the cast July 9).
“The power of the show is that it uses modern pop culture and music and dance to reach people,” says Darren Boch, superintendent of the Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park. “This is a story that deserves a much bigger audience than just an academic one.”
The musical “Hamilton” has a double resonance for Paterson: a show about the city’s founder that speaks a musical language in which Paterson’s young people are highly fluent. In recent years the city has developed a thriving hip-hop scene, and one national star: Fetty Wap, whose 2014 hit “Trap Queen” was a Billboard No. 2.
As a matter of fact, Paterson’s kids were hip to “Hamilton” before most of the rest of us. A mixtape of the show’s opening rap was making the rounds as far back as 2009 (Miranda performed it, then, for President Obama in the White House). In 2010, a local “youth corps” was created in Paterson – in part to aid the park service in preparing the Great Falls National Historical Park for its 2011 opening. That rap became their mantra. “The way the Youth Corps started each one of its days, five days a week, in the summer of 2010, was doing that rap,” Zax says. “The musical offered us the opening to do something very special for the national park, that wouldn’t be boring to young people.”
The centerpiece of the park — the spectacular waterfalls — is a key part of the Hamilton story.
It was here in 1778, the story goes, that Hamilton, on a July picnic with Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette, had a vision for a manufacturing town — the first of many — powered by the torrential waters, that would help make America self-sufficient. In 1791, Hamilton drew up the charter for New Jersey’s first corporation: the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures. This company, which essentially sold or leased real estate and access to its “raceways” (sluices) to power factories, lasted until 1945.
You can visit the falls and the still-existing “raceways” any day of the week. And you’ll be within walking distance of the Paterson Museum, where you can see more of Hamilton’s legacy.
“Hamilton has never died out in Paterson,” says Giacomo DeStefano, director of the museum (he’s Paterson-born and bred). “Now he’s alive for the rest of the country. I can’t speak about Paterson without speaking about Alexander Hamilton. Now the rest of the country is back on board.”
The 91-year-old museum, housed in an old locomotive works, contains several artifacts of interest to Hamilton buffs. Among them: a big plaster bas-relief of Hamilton by local sculptor Gaetano Federici, a glass case full of Hamilton- and Great Falls-related postcards, buttons and ribbons from a century ago, two volumes of hand-written minutes for Hamilton’s “Useful Manufactures” corporation and an 18th century lottery ticket that helped finance it. “THIS TICKET will entitle the Bearer to such PRIZE as may be drawn against its number, in the LOTTERY of the SOCIETY FOR ESTABLISHING USEFUL MANUFACTURES,” it reads.
Fans of the musical “Hamilton” especially love the love story: the romance of the go-getting Hamilton and his proto-feminist wife, Elizabeth Schuyler. North Jersey owns a piece of that, too.
You can visit the Schuyler-Hamilton house, where Alex wooed Eliza, in Morristown. They have several trophies from the late Mrs. Hamilton: a collar, cap, a lock of her hair and part of her dinner service. The museum has been around for more than 90 years, but in the months since the show opened, there’s been a huge uptick in visitors, says curator Pat Sanftner. All ages, too, from 3-year-olds to 20-somethings to seniors.
“We were averaging something like four people a month,” she says. “Now we have 20 people a week.”
Copyright (2016) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
This article was written by Jim Beckerman from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
Subscribe to Skift Pro
Subscribe to Skift Pro to get unlimited access to stories like these ($30/month)Subscribe Now
Photo Credit: Bust of Alexander Hamilton in Weehawken, NJ, where he was shot in a duel with Aaron Burr. Sites like this have attracted tourists following the hit Broadway musical. Tony Fischer / Flickr