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|Best thing I saw or learned
|Phillip Hamilton, son of Alexander, is buried in Trinity Churchyard. But there’s no longer a marker, and somehow no one quite knows where he is. How can that be? What kind of negligence does it take to lose a Hamilton for goodness’ sake? I mean, even before the musical to end all musicals made him a hero, A.Ham was always New York’s hometown Founding Father. And Phillip’s death was always an important part of the story. So, Trinity Church, how do you lose a Hamilton?
Its steeple stretching toward heaven at the head of Wall Street, Trinity Church stands as a powerful rebuke to those greedy financial types who see money as the beginning and end of living. I’m not sure it’s an effective rebuke, but it’s the thought that counts.
It’s an impressive, location at the heart of 18th century New York, and Trinity boasts not only a storied history, but also serves as a key, perhaps even the key stop on the Hamilton pilgrimage route. He’s buried there. As are Eliza and Angelica Schuyler (Peggy, the third Schuyler sister, is in Albany). And Phillip Hamilton is at Trinity too, though as mentioned above, no one quite knows where.
The current church is Gothic Revival, in brownstone, which always seems to me a striking and unlikely choice. Until this visit I never wondered what the surrounding area was like when it was built — if it was all brownstone rowhouses, it would’ve fit in nicely I suppose. Now it stands out, even as the surrounding skyscrapers far overtop it.
Trinity’s history goes back to 1697, but this is the third church on this site. The first Trinity Church burned down in the Great Fire during the revolution in 1776. The second revealed structural problems following a severe snowstorm in 1838 that led to its replacement with the current building in 1846. So while it’s old, it’s not as old as it might want you to believe. St. Paul’s Chapel, a Trinity offshoot a short stroll north on Broadway, dates to 1766. I strongly recommend visiting both if you have time.
With Trinity itself, I’d say the cemetery is more important to visit than the church, which with one an exception doesn’t play much of an historical role. In addition to Hamilton and family, an assortment of other luminaries is there, including Robert Fulton (inventor of the steamboat), who probably wishes Lin-Manuel Miranda would get to work on a musical about him. And there’s a monument to firefighters, and assorted romantically crumbling old gravestones. The oldest legible marker in the cemetery dates to 1681.
The interior of Trinity is pretty, but not especially noteworthy. It’s on a par with most other gothic revival churches in the U.S. or U.K.
To my mind, Trinity’s most important historic role came in the days after September 11. Trinity and St. Paul’s Chapel served as incredibly important sources of physical and spiritual sustenance for all the people facing the unimaginable work at Ground Zero.
Anyone who likes old churches or cemeteries or Hamilton (or Robert Fulton) must visit Trinity. Moreover, the graveyard is an oasis of green in a part of the city that doesn’t have a lot of that. For those frantically visiting all of Lower Manhattan’s many historic sites, museums, and other landmarks, it represents a chance to catch one’s breath in the midst of a jam-packed day. Trinity also has a fine music program–definitely take a look at their website. Even for a casual visitor, Trinity is worth a special trip.
Finally, I was going to take Trinity to task for not playing up the Hamilton-Hamilton connection–missed marketing opportunity!–but as I was departing I spotted this sign on the fence:
Well played indeed.
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