Alexander Hamilton - The Man Who Made Modern America
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Overview

Alexander Hamilton: The Man Who Made Modern America (New-York Historical Society, September 10, 2004-February 28, 2005) acquainted visitors with a statesman and visionary whose life inspired discussion and controversy and shaped the America we live in two hundred years after his death.

In the Introduction gallery, visitors met Alexander Hamilton and his contemporaries -- Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Burr. A five-minute film, running on split screens, presented these men -- allies, rivals, enemies -- voicing their opinions of the political and personal issues of Hamilton's life. The gallery was lined with portraits of the historic figures on screen.

In the next gallery, His Vision, visitors had a multimedia encounter with Hamilton's view of the world, and his plans for improving it. In the center of the gallery were thirteen cases with priceless authentic documents -- correspondence, the Constitution, records of the battlefield and the courtroom -- that flowed from his pen. Cases on the righthand wall displayed objects -- a musket, money, slave shackles -- illustrating his concepts. Screens on the lefthand wall showed a series of filmed vignettes of modern American life -- the bustling city, the free press, the modern military -- fading in and out with projections of Hamilton's words: a continuous alternation of eighteenth-century plans and twenty-first century fulfillment. John Trumbull's full-length portrait of Hamilton hung at the gallery's end, presiding over the whole.

In the third gallery, His Life, the visitor walked past a timeline of Hamilton's life. Graphics, text, and smaller historic objects -- a mourning ring with strands of Hamilton's hair -- illustrated his crowded life, from his illegitimate birth in the Caribbean, to his American success, to his violent death.

After passing through the museum store, and a tribute in the rotunda to the New-York Historical Society's Bicentennial, visitors reached the last gallery: The Duel. Two life-size bronze statues of Hamilton and his nemesis Aaron Burr stood as the duelists stood on July 11, 1804. Displayed between them were the pistols used by Hamilton and Burr that day.

The visitor's experience ended in the Theater, which featured a production of In Worlds Unknown, a thirty-minute play about Hamilton by Don Winslow commissioned especially for this exhibition.

Image: Dolley Madison