Trinity Church

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  4/5
Time spent 32 minutes
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?
Wall Street NYC
View of Trinity Church from Wall Street

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.

Hamilton Monument, Trinity Church, Manhattan
People leave coins at the Hamilton monument. I guess because $10 bills would blow away?

Eliza Hamilton Monument, Trinity Church, ManhattanThe 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 Church, Wall StreetTrinity’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.

Trinity Church, ManhattanThe 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.

Graveyard, Trinity Church, ManhattanAnyone 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:

There's a Million Things You Haven't Trinity Church
Clever, subtle, Hamilton reference

Well played indeed.

For Reference:

Address 75 Broadway, Manhattan
Cost  Free
Other Relevant Links
  • NY Times piece on Trinity Church’s role after 9/11


Edgar Allan Poe Cottage

Edification value  
Entertainment value  
Should you go?  
Time spent 70 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned During their sojourn at the cottage Poe and his wife had a cat named Katarina. And maybe that was Mrs. Poe’s idea but still there’s an endearing humor to that which changed the way I think about Poe a little.

Edgar Allan Poe, proto-goth, inventor of the detective story, writer of gruesome tales and horror-struck poetry, quother of the raven, had a hard life.  Baltimore has largely claimed him as its own (just think of their NFL team).  While he did live there for while, and died there in 1849, Poe was a New Yorker for a good chunk of his life.  Indeed, he was only visiting Baltimore when he shuffled off his mortal coil in circumstances that remain mysterious to this day.  For the last three years of his life Poe resided in a small rented cottage in what was then the village of Fordham in Westchester County, known today as the Bronx.

Built in 1812 by the Valentine family to house farm laborers, it’s a mark of how fast esteem for Poe rose after his death that his cottage has survived to the present.  In 1902 Poe Park was established, and in 1913 the cottage was moved to the park, where it has stood as a museum ever since.

Poe’s reason for moving north was as sad as anything else in his life:  his wife Virginia had contracted consumption, and they hoped that by escaping from the foul miasma of the city to bucolic Fordham, she might improve.  It was not to be, however, and she died less than a year after they moved to the cottage, in January of 1847.

The cottage is definitely the home of a poor man.  A realtor would call it cozy. While tiny, I imagine that during the winter it was freezing.  A kitchen, parlor, and small bedroom on the ground floor, and a study and bedroom on the second floor, a small porch out front, and that’s it.  Poe and his wife rented it for $100 per year.

It’s furnished with a fair number of period pieces, three items of which are known to have been Poe’s:  a rocking chair, a fancy gilded mirror, and the narrow bed where Virginia Poe passed away.

Virginia Poe’s bed

In addition to period furniture, the house also contains assorted Poe memorabilia: period prints of the cottage, a bust of Poe that used to be in the park, and several pictures of the man in various states of unhappiness.

There’s a brief video that describes Poe’s life in the Bronx: walking the High Bridge, wandering along the Bronx River, and visiting the Jesuits at then then brand-new St. John’s College (founded in 1841, now called Fordham), with whom he seems to have gotten on well.  Poe wrote some of his best-known works while he lived at the cottage, including “The Bells,” and Fordham lays claim to having THE bell that inspired the poem.

My guide during my visit was a local kid who really loved Poe and the place.  His enthusiasm helped bring the cottage to life. 

And he explained the most random furnishing of the cottage: a picture of penguins on the parlor wall.  They feature in Poe’s only novel, a whaling tale called The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. I asked him who comes, and he said it was about 25% New Yorkers, 50% tourists from overseas, and 25% tourists from other states. 

Poe Cottage’s environs today

It takes some determination to get there.  It’s on the way (by subway) to the New York Botanical Garden or Woodlawn Cemetery, and kind of near Lehman College Art Gallery.  But it’s not especially close to any of those.  Thus, even though the city has grown up all around it, Poe’s cottage is still sort of a lonely place. 

Anyone with vaguely goth or romantic tendencies should absolutely go.  Underappreciated poets and anyone who can still quote the opening lines of the Raven should too. But those outside those categories could probably stick visiting other historic houses in the city, many of which are easier to get to.

For Reference:

Address 2640 Grand Concourse, the Bronx
Website Bronx Historical Society Website
Cost  General Admission:  $5
Other Relevant Links