A first-time listener of Hamilton — the hit musical about, yes, the first Treasury Secretary — could be forgiven for thinking that all the action goes down in New York.
After all, it’s “the greatest city in the world,” as the characters repeat over and over again. “The revolution’s happening in New York,” goes a song in the first act. “History is happening in Manhattan.”
But, arguably, more history was happening in Philadelphia, though you’d barely know it from Hamilton. Huge chunks of the musical are set here, from the Reynolds Affair, the country's first sex scandal, to the cabinet battles where Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson square off in verse. Hamilton lived in Philadelphia while he served as Treasury Secretary from 1790 to 1795. (Plus, Leslie Odom, Jr., who won a Tony for his portrayal of Aaron Burr, is from East Oak Lane.)
The musical’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, even jokingly apologized in his commencement speech earlier this year at the University of Pennsylvania for leaving Philly out of the musical.
And though Hamilton-related sites in New York and New Jersey have seen renewed interest since the musical exploded on Broadway, Philadelphia hasn’t exactly capitalized on its own Hamiltonian heritage.
Enter Catherine Price, a writer and New York native who moved here in 2011 and fell in love with the musical last year.
“I was thinking about how, in New York, they still have ‘Sex and the City’ tours -- from a fake show that ended 10 years ago. How is it possible that Philly doesn’t have a Hamilton tour?” she said. “It’s the traditional story of Philly not bragging about itself.”
For the last month Price has been working on a walking-tour app that takes users through Hamilton’s Philadelphia.
The app was finalized this week, to coincide with the release of the PBS documentary “Hamilton’s America,’ which airs Friday at 9 p.m.
The tour, a $4.99 download, wheels through Old City, past the First Bank of the United States -- its creation was one of Hamilton’s toughest political fights -- to the Treasury Secretary’s house on Walnut Street, to the approximate location of the home (the house itself is long gone) of Maria Reynolds, Hamilton’s mistress and one of the players in the aforementioned sex scandal.
There's a Second Bank of the United States, too, now home to a portrait gallery of early Americans — “like a Facebook of the founding fathers,” Price said, laughing.
Each stop is linked to a song from the musical — at the First Bank, it’s “Cabinet Battle No. 1,” which reimagines Hamilton and Jefferson’s political animosity as a rap battle. At the site of the old Treasury office — which no longer stands -- you’re encouraged to listen to “Non-Stop,” the explosive first-act finale where Hamilton ascends into the upper echelon of American politics.
The Independence Visitors' Center will promote the app at its headquarters on 6th and Market Streets.
"My first reaction was, 'Why didn't we think of this sooner?'" said James Cuorato, the center's president and CEO. "We knew there were sites here that were important in Hamilton's life, but we didn't realize how many there were -- I think people are going to find it eminently fascinating."
Twenty percent of the proceeds from the app will go toward the First Bank of the United States, which has been closed to the public for years and needs $25 million in renovations to re-open.
“We're really happy — happy that anyone is taking notice of anything that has to do with the First Bank,” said Maiti Gallen, the program director, for the Friends of Independence National Park. “Alexander Hamilton as a founding father is so popular right now, and we love that people are starting to take notice of this beautiful building that he started."
Interest in the Founding Fathers does come in waves. At the Second Bank of the United States on Thursday, a park ranger mentioned that the musical seemed to be driving more tourist visits lately. A few years ago, after the HBO miniseries on John Adams premiered, the second president was all the rage.
Now, it’s all about Hamilton.
“We’ve had some kids come in” looking for Hamilton’s portrait, the ranger said. “I actually rapped with one of them the other week.”
Price says that the musical — and researching information for the app — has rekindled an appreciation for early America, in all its tumultuousness.
“I hope this helps inspire people to learn more about American history in the same way it's inspired me,” she said. “One of the things I love most about the musical is to get back in touch with the ideals on which America was founded — and to remind myself that America is a work in progress.”
The app can be downloaded by searching "Alexander Hamilton Walking Tours" in the iTunes or Android app stores.