Visitors can act, rap Hamilton story at Jefferson’s Monticello


CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Alexander Hamilton never visited the home of archrival Thomas Jefferson. But the nation’s first Treasury secretary — and namesake of the hit musical — rules the house during the new Hamilton Tour Takeover at Monticello.

The after-hour visits are part history class and part civics lesson — with chances to rap and sing.

“Jefferson is definitely a villain of the musical, but this is not in any way a response,” says Steve Light, Monticello’s tour manager. “We want people to engage in the history.”

The leaders’ complicated and contradictory relationship becomes clear the moment you enter the mansion. Light points to busts of Hamilton and Jefferson, which the third president installed so they could remain “opposed in death as in life.”

The guide distributes stick puppets of the Founding Fathers, and the nature of their conflict emerges as visitors read excerpts from source documents and lyrics from the musical. Hamilton, an “immigrant, orphan, bastard,” believed in the leadership of aristocrats, while Jefferson, an aristocrat, trusted in the people, Light says.

“Who does he mean by the people?” asks Astrid Crookshank, visiting from Maryland with her college-age son. “Women? Slaves? Or white landowners?”

Light answers by quoting “The Hamilton Mixtape” about the nature of history: “The reality is messier and richer, kids.”

As the tour approaches the dining room, a visitor begins to sing “The Room Where It Happens,” a showstopper from the play.

Light explains the famed meeting actually occurred in New York, where Hamilton, Jefferson and James Madison agreed the nation would assume states’ debts in return for placing the capital in Washington, D.C. As the song says, Jefferson likely “arranged the menu, the venue and the setting” — with the help of his slave, Paris-trained chef James Hemings.

Tonight’s tour ends in the recently restored Dome Room, where Light brings up the 1800 presidential election. Surprisingly, Hamilton played a crucial role in helping Jefferson defeat his running mate, Aaron Burr. “Jefferson has beliefs,” Hamilton explains onstage. “Burr has none.”

As the evening sun streams through circular windows, Light asks his visitors their opinion: Are we living in Hamilton’s nation today or Jefferson’s? After some discussion, Crookshank speaks up.

“I think the country won,” she says, “because we have both.”

The roughly 90-minute tours cost $40 and are offered select Fridays and Saturdays through May, and in September; www.monticello.org.

———

(Larry Bleiberg is a freelance writer.)



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Travel

In London, two solid weeks of tea for one
In London, two solid weeks of tea for one

The Duchess of Bedford was hungry. It had been hours since the lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria had eaten breakfast at Belvoir Castle, and dinner - as always - would be served at 8. What was a famished functionary to do? She called for tea and a light repast to be served in her chambers, and the enduring English custom of afternoon tea soon became...
10 reasons families will love Winter Park Resort
10 reasons families will love Winter Park Resort

Just beyond Colorado’s cosmopolitan capital nestled high in the Rocky Mountains, you’ll find the broad powder-cloaked slopes, wavy mogul-rippled steeps and cozy snowcapped ski village of Winter Park. Within moments of arriving at the base of this popular ski destination, flurries start to fall from a smoke-gray sky and our three kids begin...
How to stay warm on the slopes
How to stay warm on the slopes

Everything, from my head to my toes, struggles to conserve heat when I’m on the slopes. My husband, however, has none of these problems. While I go out with five or six layers, he’s shedding shirts by lunch and sweating in his snowboard boots even when it’s freezing out. So how do you spend more of your ski day on the slopes instead...
Celebrating Sicily: Italy at its most extreme
Celebrating Sicily: Italy at its most extreme

It may lack the Botticellis, Guccis and touristic icons of Venice, Florence or Rome, but Sicily still packs a punch. This island — a little smaller than Massachusetts — is home to some of Europe’s most important ancient Greek sites, the most active volcano in Europe and some of Italy’s most intriguing architecture and tastiest...
Milwaukee: More than just beer here
Milwaukee: More than just beer here

MILWAUKEE — “Arrived in Milwaukee. Found beer,” my social media post said. Because honestly, beer is about the only thing I knew about the city. And make no mistake, beer is big there. You can tour any one of more than a dozen breweries, see the mansion that Pabst built, the ballpark that Miller built. But to say Milwaukee is all...
More Stories