For those of you looking to experience all the Hamilton you can without shelling out the $700 + to see the broadway musical, Weehawken is a must. Weehawken is the holy grail for Hamilton worshipers, the place where he met his untimely death from the bullet fired by Vice-President Aaron Burr.
One of the joys I have giving tours with Bow Tie Tours in Philadelphia is the surprise or drawing back of breath I get from one of the more outlandish or bizarre stories that history has provided. Gore Vidal once remarked that American history had so many of such stories and is so teemed with wild and complex characters that one would have to work hard at it to make it boring. Certainly the various complexities of the Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson trio would leave even the writers of House of Cards breathless.
Joseph Ellis has written a wonderful account of the drama in his excellent Founding Fathers. For those who want a fuller account, there is Thomas Fleming’s Duel, Nancy Isenberg’s Fallen Founder, and Ron Chernow’s already classic biography, Alexander Hamilton.
The spot where it happened is about a hour and forty five minute drive from Philadelphia. I suppose it is odd to feel the strange foreboding from an event that occurred a couple centuries ago, but that is what I felt.
Looking across the water toward New York City, you can’t help but wonder what the view was like when Hamilton looked across. The ride across takes about five minutes on ferry. How long did it take rowing it, as Hamilton and Burr each did? What was Hamilton feeling on the way out? On the way back?
There are moments of history that cry out for a re-do, and this is one of them. Did Burr actually intend to kill his long-time antagonist? Did Hamilton have any idea that the meeting would have such tragic consequences? Did it take Hamilton’s death to teach Burr that, as he sings in the musical, the world was big enough for both of them?
Alas, that’s what we end up with, two giant personalities who simply could not be contained. Hamilton is the only one of the major Founders who did not get to live into his old-age. And yet, after the Reynolds Pamphlet, after the diatribe against Adams, after his son’s death at the same spot of Weehawken from the same cause, was there anything left of Hamilton?
History is full of questions can be answered, and even more full of questions that cannot. This is one of the latter.