Washington unveils special exhibits as ‘Hamilton’ comes to town
WASHINGTON — The blockbuster musical “Hamilton” is finally coming to the nation’s capital, and the city is preparing in ways that only Washington can.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s genre-bending historical musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton is starting a three-month run at the Kennedy Center on Tuesday.
Hamilton didn’t actually spend much of his life or professional career in Washington. The U.S. capital was in Philadelphia when he served as the nation’s first treasury secretary, and the federal government didn’t move to Washington until 1800, four years before his death.
However, the myriad museums of modern Washington have been preparing specialized exhibits designed to appeal to tourists and locals who can’t get the tunes out of their heads.
“D.C. seems like the sort of town that’s tailor-made for this sort of wonky, nerding out over a former secretary of the Treasury,” said Daniel Piazza, chief curator of stamp collections at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum.
The Postal Museum has already launched an exhibit, “Alexander Hamilton: Soldier, Secretary, Icon,” that includes mail, portraits, and postage and revenue stamps reflective of Hamilton’s life and career. But the real prize of the exhibit are the two flintlock pistols made of walnut, brass and gold that were used in the July 11, 1804, duel with Vice President Aaron Burr, which resulted in Hamilton’s death.
The pistols are on loan from the private collection of JPMorgan Chase & Co. They will only be on display through June 24, although the museum’s larger Hamilton exhibit will continue through next year.
The Library of Congress is unveiling its own Hamilton display, drawing on its collection of more than 12,000 of Hamilton’s papers and documents. Much of it will have direct connections and references that fans of the musical will recognize, according to curator Julie Miller. Miranda based his musical on a 2004 biography, “Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow, which drew from much of the same material.
Miller said the exhibit includes a letter from Hamilton to his wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, in which he refers to her as “the best of wives and best of women” — a line quoted verbatim in the musical.
There’s also material chronicling a historically important dinner meeting with Hamilton and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. That meeting is at the heart of the song “The Room Where it Happens”.
The Library of Congress is supplementing its physical exhibit by making a vast number of Hamilton-related papers accessible online. These include a manuscript of the “Reynolds Pamphlet,” Hamilton’s 100-page public response to his involvement in what was essentially the first American political sex scandal. That controversy merited a song of the same name in the musical. MKH
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