Last month, I had the distinct pleasure of spending a bit of time with Alexander Hamilton and George Washington. I must say, it had been quite some time since I last engaged with them. I was glad that July provided the opportunity to be reintroduced to these intelligent, talented, courageous Founding Fathers.
The reintroduction began on Broadway at “Hamilton” and continued the next week at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home and farm in Virginia. Although different, these two experiences complemented each other perfectly. “Hamilton” is simultaneously a chance to step back in time and yet experience something from our time, of the moment so to speak. Mount Vernon offers an immersion experience. The home and property were restored and reflect how they looked at the end of Washington’s life. Together, the show and home allowed me to gain a deeper appreciation of who these men are and how they lived their lives.
While I certainly knew a great deal about Hamilton from my days as a History major, the show provided a whole new means to understand him. It allowed me to see Hamilton’s humanity coupled with his drive for making his mark and leaving a legacy. There was no way Hamilton was ever going to be ordinary. He was aware the destiny of this nation was mixed in with his personal goals. Hamilton was a man who struggled like the rest of us do with questions of honor, morality, and ego. He was brilliant and complex, and the same can be said of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s show.
Mount Vernon was my first visit to a president’s home. It offered the chance to see Washington as a homeowner, farmer, and slave owner. I must mention that I traveled there Founding Father style (aka by boat). Taking a boat from D.C. down the Potomac really added an extra layer to my trip. As the boat approached the property, I caught site of the mansion. Like its owner, the home has a very commanding presence.
The highlight of the day was the tour of the mansion. It was very powerful to walk through the rooms he once lived in. I truly enjoyed seeing how meticulously Washington planned and designed his home. How he used the artwork in his home to reinforce his “brand.” Nothing was on the wall by chance, it was part of a larger statement about Washington. He had amazing taste, and I can understand why his guests stayed as long as they did. They also stayed that long because in the 18th century, it was rude to ask guests to leave. The Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center truly rounded out the visit. One highlight was Jean-Antoine Houdon’s bust of Washington, which is renowned for its accuracy. It is considered to be the closest portrayal of what Washington actually looked like.
On Broadway and in Virginia, Alexander Hamilton and George Washington were humanized. They were people with problems and living rooms. I believe interacting with History in this manner changes you. I definitely left both of these experiences not only thinking differently about Hamilton and Washington, but about American History as a whole. For that, I am deeply appreciative to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association for preserving and maintaining Washington’s home, and to those who believed in Miranda’s vision of telling American History through rap and hip hop.