Hamilton Star Jordan Fisher Gives a Tour of Alexander Hamilton's NYC Home

Mike Coppola/Getty Images for National Park Service
Mike Coppola/Getty Images for National Park Service

Growing up, Jordan Fisher was not a history buff. “I was a science guy in school, numbers and science and formula, what made things work and how to bring them forward—not what happened,” he told mental_floss. He’d memorize facts about historical figures simply to pass his tests; he didn’t care about them. But being cast in the Broadway musical Hamilton—where he played both John Laurens and Philip Hamilton from November 2016 to March 2017—changed all that.

“All it took was humanization. It took putting humanity in these people who had been mythologized, and seeing the relationships and the West Coast/East Coast rivalry in this musical about the construct of our country,” he said, adding that he’s a “brand new lover of American history—very passionate.” Now, Fisher has joined up with the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation to help launch Parks 101—a series that will explore the lesser known histories and stories of America’s parks—to give a tour of Alexander Hamilton’s New York City home, the Hamilton Grange National Memorial. Mental_floss tagged along as Fisher and Park Ranger Vladimir Merzlyakov gave a tour.

The Grange is located all the way uptown, at 141st Street—which would, in Hamilton’s time, have been the country. Hamilton’s “sweet project,” as he called it, was completed in 1802, just two years before his death, and was moved twice during the next 200 years before ending up in its current location in St. Nicholas Park. Despite the relocations, the house is 75 percent original and has been refurbished to what it would have looked like when the Hamiltons lived there.

The main entertaining room of the house, Merzlyakov said, had three huge triple windows, which—along with three others on the opposite side of the house—could be opened to provide a breeze during hot months. The piano forte belonged to Hamilton and Eliza’s daughter Angelica and was given to her by her aunt, Angelica Church. That piano features heavily in Hamilton, although it’s Philip, not Angelica, who plays it. The siblings were very close; after Philip was killed in a duel, Angelica was never the same. “She went a little crazy,” Fisher said. “She would only refer to Philip even after he died as if he were alive, she would play music and songs that they would sing together as kids … It’s very powerful to see that and to actually see a piece that they played. It’s pretty incredible.”

Fisher compared the formal dining room—which was reserved for guests and special occasions—to that room in your grandmother’s house that no one goes in, where the furniture is covered in plastic. Notice that the silverware was turned upside down. “Back then, the silversmith would have his insignia on the back handle of the silverware—so if you spent a lot of money, you’d want the people using it to know that,” Merzlyakov said.

Hamilton’s study was painted a bright shade of green. “This was an actual choice,” Fisher joked. “Green was another way of stunting back then.” The color was very expensive, “the reason being that you’d have to use copper to get that green color, and only a handful of people knew how to mix it and make it,” Merzlyakov added. The books on the table are Hamilton’s—and the one on the top right is signed by Eliza.

Fisher, Merzlyakov, and a bust of Hamilton.

 
Get a tour of the Grange from Fisher by visiting his Facebook page at 6 p.m.

Photos by Erin McCarthy unless otherwise noted.

How Did These Famous Figures Die?

Why Does Santa Claus Give Coal to Bad Kids?

iStock/bonchan
iStock/bonchan

The tradition of giving misbehaving children lumps of fossil fuel predates the Santa we know, and is also associated with St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, and Italy’s La Befana. Though there doesn't seem to be one specific legend or history about any of these figures that gives a concrete reason for doling out coal specifically, the common thread between all of them seems to be convenience.

Santa and La Befana both get into people’s homes via the fireplace chimney and leave gifts in stockings hung from the mantel. Sinterklaas’s controversial assistant, Black Pete, also comes down the chimney and places gifts in shoes left out near the fireplace. St. Nick used to come in the window, and then switched to the chimney when they became common in Europe. Like Sinterklaas, his presents are traditionally slipped into shoes sitting by the fire.

So, let’s step into the speculation zone: All of these characters are tied to the fireplace. When filling the stockings or the shoes, the holiday gift givers sometimes run into a kid who doesn’t deserve a present. So to send a message and encourage better behavior next year, they leave something less desirable than the usual toys, money, or candy—and the fireplace would seem to make an easy and obvious source of non-presents. All the individual would need to do is reach down into the fireplace and grab a lump of coal. (While many people think of fireplaces burning wood logs, coal-fired ones were very common during the 19th and early 20th centuries, which is when the American Santa mythos was being established.)

That said, with the exception of Santa, none of these characters limits himself to coal when it comes to bad kids. They’ve also been said to leave bundles of twigs, bags of salt, garlic, and onions, which suggests that they’re less reluctant than Santa to haul their bad kid gifts around all night in addition to the good presents.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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