New York City, US: Hit musical Hamilton inspires new walking tour

"Four or five years ago, this place would be empty," says tour guide Greg, ambling between the gravestones at Lower Manhattan's Trinity Church. Now, he has plenty of company, with the very real danger that some fellow attendees might burst into song.

The newfound popularity of Alexander Hamilton's tomb comes courtesy of Lin-Manuel Miranda's smash hit musical, Hamilton. It tells the borderline preposterous story of America's Founding Father and first Secretary of the Treasury, who was shot dead by Vice-President Aaron Burr during the country's most notorious duel.

If you can't get your hands on those gold dust-esque Broadway tickets, Urban Adventures' scandal-packed walking tour through Manhattan's historic southern tip is a good substitute. It tells the tale of the bastard child prodigy from the Caribbean, with no formal education, who arrived solo in New York as a teenager and went on to radically transform his country.

Opposite Trinity Church is Zuccotti Park. In Hamilton's time, this was home to the residential halls of King's College, where he studied. More recently, it was notorious as the base of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Without Hamilton, however, there would be no Wall Street to occupy.

After the Revolutionary War, during which he was George Washington's aide-de-camp, Hamilton brought the states together by getting the southerners to agree a new banking system in return for moving the national capital further south. Fittingly, the US Federal Reserve building is now opposite Thomas Jefferson's old lodgings, where that deal was hammered out.

Most of the financial district around Wall Street would not exist without Hamilton's systems for managing stocks, bonds and debt. But while some historic traces of the area remain, they are rarely in a form that Hamilton would recognise.

The Federal Hall, where Hamilton stood by as George Washington was sworn in as president, was torn down in 1812 and replaced by its current neoclassical incarnation. The building at 48 Wall Street was where Hamilton's Bank of New York moved to in 1797, but the skyscraper on the site – now home to the Museum of American Finance – is a 1928 model.

And the even the fabled Fraunces Tavern, where Hamilton and arch rival Aaron Burr had to awkwardly celebrate the 4th of July together a week before their fateful duel, has undergone several rebuilds.

Other Hamilton-related spots further afield in the city have undergone changes, too. The Weehawken duelling grounds across the Hudson River in New Jersey has plaques and busts, but the lightly wooded open space of 1804 where Hamilton was shot is no longer there. Hamilton's "Grange" house in northern Manhattan has been moved a few blocks. To attempt to travel back in time on this walking tour, however, is to miss the point.  Wandering around the sites of Hamilton's old haunts in Manhattan is about exploring his legacy and remarkable life story rather than specific buildings.

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Strolling through some of the richest streets on earth, Greg regales us with tales of adultery, blackmail, bitter rivalry, international diplomacy and political chicanery. No wonder Lin-Manuel Miranda thought such a biography would make for a juicy musical.

The obelisk on Hamilton's tomb pays tribute to "the STATESMAN of consummate wisdom whose TALENT and VIRTUES will be admired long after this MARBLE shall have mouldered into dust".

The marble's still standing for now, but you wouldn't bet against this holding true ...

TRIP NOTES

David Whitley was a guest of the Quin Hotel and Urban Adventures.

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traveller.com.au/new-york

nycgo.com

FLY

Qantas flies to New York via Los Angeles from Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. See qantas.com.au

TOUR

Urban Adventures' Hamilton Happy Hour tour costs $US30. See urbanadventures.com

STAY

The Quin Hotel, near the south end of Central Park, comes with timeless decor, super-comfy beds and offers guided jogging tours in the park. Rooms cost from $US401. See thequinhotel.com

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