As the lights came up at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York, Aaron Burr was rapping ruminations about his rival, Alexander Hamilton.
Mary Anne Hamilton watched from the center of the third row.
Fans of Hamilton, the hottest Broadway musical in decades with a record 16 Tony nominations, are desperate for seats. Everyone wants to be in; it seems impossible to get in.
And yet, there was this retired real estate agent from Seminole, 82, the last person who ever expected to go. She thought rap was something teenagers blared driving past her house. She had never seen a Broadway show. She never would have cared about Alexander Hamilton, but for this fact:
Her late husband was his great-great-grandson. Mary Anne always called herself "a trophy wife." For decades, she had no time for history. She had lived with money and without, near stature and yet far from glamor. Strung together, it had led her here.
In a way, this performance was one final benefit from her marriage. One more gift she never really asked for.
• • •
In November 1965, Mary Anne Clark was a 31-year-old cocktail waitress at the Gramercy Hotel in Washington, D.C.
She wore a maid's outfit, fishnet stockings, heels.
She was unimpressed by impressive people who came through, actors and politicians. Here was one more, 65, a former New York assemblyman 34 years her senior.
"He was a pleasant old man who walked with a cane," she said. "He was used to buying and selling people."
Lingering at the bar, he told one of the hotel owners his name was Laurens M. Hamilton, the great-great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton. The owner told Mary Anne.
"I'm thinking, 'Okay, so what?' " she said, sitting in the den of her Timberwoods condominium. "I didn't know who Alexander Hamilton was." Was that the guy on the $10 bill?
His largesse, however, did impress her.
"He tipped me $50," she said. "That was big time."
The stranger had another famous relative — his maternal grandfather, shipping magnate J.P. Morgan. He told her he lived in another luxury hotel, and that he had a chauffeured Lincoln Continental waiting outside.
Mary Anne was a mother to five kids, having the first at 16. That night in 1965, she was in the middle of a divorce from their father, a hotel bellhop. But it wasn't final.
Laurens had just divorced his fourth wife.
He wanted her to run away with him, to relax on his 85-foot yacht and let the servants take care of everything. For now, she could stay home with her children, ages 4 to 14. He bought her two sets of earrings, a brooch and a ring, all loaded with diamonds and emeralds.
Laurens had extensive documentation to show that he was who he said he was. He was born June 18, 1900, in Tuxedo Park, N.Y.; he was the son of William Pierson Hamilton and Julia Pierpont Morgan; the grandson of William Gaston Hamilton; and the great-grandson of John Church Hamilton, whose father was Alexander Hamilton.
And this fact will not be lost on Hamilton fans: "Laurens" is the last name of John Laurens, the best friend of Alexander Hamilton, and a character in the musical. The Laurens name has been passed down through the Hamilton family tree. Some historians think Laurens was Hamilton's lover, citing Hamilton's florid letters declaring his love.
"That was the way they wrote letters," Mary Anne said. "Who knows? You can't really say one way or the other."
Three months after they met, she went with Laurens to Nevis, in the West Indies, for a ceremony at the boyhood hometown of Alexander Hamilton. She watched from a distance as Laurens met with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. By that point, she had already made up her mind about Laurens.
She got a steely-eyed look, and explained.
"I've got five kids at home, and someone's sitting outside the door with a Continental with a chauffeur in it, who's paying me not to go to work," she said. "And I don't have to worry about somebody coming in and taking care of those five kids every evening?"
So she said yes.
"You're darn right I did."
They married in 1966, and moved into a home on the Potomac, with a pool and a tennis court and servants. The relationship was mostly platonic.
"I wasn't passionately in love with him, but he was very good to me and my children," she said.
Within a few years, her husband's wealth began to dry up — a consequence of alimony payments to ex-wives, depreciated stock and the IRS.
His health also began to fail, Mary Anne said, and he became depressed. In 1972 they moved to the Pinellas Point area of St. Petersburg.
Trappings of history traveled with them, a portrait of Alexander Hamilton that had belonged to John Church Hamilton, as well as a pair of his candlesticks.
There was also a leather-bound volume of what looked like old newspapers. She had looked at them before, but always lost patience.
"The s's looked like f's and all that crap," she said. "I've got five kids and an old man to take care of."
Laurens died in 1978. Mary Anne developed a real estate career. Several years ago, she took another look at those old newspapers.
They turned out to be reprints of the Federalist Papers, part of the 85 letters written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay arguing for the adoption of the United States Constitution.
She gave the volume to her son, who sold them on eBay for $7,000.
• • •
She never remarried. Two of her best friends, Vincent Post and Jorge Arroyo, live next door. The couple have more or less adopted her, inviting her for drinks every evening on their shaded patio.
Post, 63, is a retired banker. He is the one who discovered last year that a new musical about Alexander Hamilton was generating a lot of buzz off-Broadway.
He told Mary Anne about the show. In August 2015, it moved to Broadway, and he started looking for tickets. Since then, customers have snatched up available seats and resold them at inflated prices.
In September, while Post was on the theater's website, the sea parted: The second and third rows suddenly became available.
Post bought three tickets at $352 apiece, a fraction of what other people were paying.
Post invited Mary Anne over. He poured her usual Scotch and water.
"I got us tickets to Hamilton," he said, casually.
Mary Anne smiled, then got alarmed.
"My first thought was, 'What am I going to wear?' Because I hate shopping."
• • •
As the April 11 show date approached, Post emailed the theater to tell them one of Alexander Hamilton's relatives was coming. He heard back after the second try.
On a Monday night, they walked through a drizzle to the theater. Mary Anne brought along a copy of Laurens' obituary. She had prepared in the months leading up, reading everything she could about the musical.
Staff at the theater escorted them to their seats. A woman with the production told them to wait after the show.
At first, Mary Anne strained to keep up, then the pace leveled out just slightly. She quickly became captivated.
She saw parallels between its famous subject and her husband. Both were a little brash and accustomed to power.
She is sure Laurens would have loved the show.
"It was the best thing I've ever seen," she said. "The way it was presented, the way they staged it, everything."
After the show, Mary Anne and her two friends stood among scores of other people on the stage. She showed a staffer the obituary of her late husband. Soon, they were being led backstage and told to wait. A few minutes later, the show's creator and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, greeted them.
"He was so gracious and nice," she said. "He said he had never met another relative of Hamilton's."
According to Mary Anne and Post, the only other descendants Miranda said he had met were related to Hamilton's wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, and her sisters, Angelica and Peggy. He gave her a first-edition copy of Hamilton: The Revolution, his 287-page "Hamiltome" about the production, and signed it.
Miranda posed for a photo, his arm around Mary Anne. She looked up at him, smiling.
• • •
Her condominium seems too tidy for anyone to live there. Floors gleam. The dining room table looks like an expensive prop in one of her real estate sales.
She has divested the most valuable possessions. The candlesticks, historical letters and speeches have made their way to museums.
Two paintings went to organizations of which Laurens had been president: a portrait of John Laurens' father to the Sons of the American Revolution; the original Hamilton portrait to the Society of the Cincinnati, an organization founded by Revolutionary soldiers in 1783.
The den is where personality per square inch explodes. Piles of photo albums document the best years with Laurens, her children, trips and commendations for her husband's work.
There are signs that Mary Anne has found ways to reconcile her own identify with the history that looms so large.
"What is karma in life?" she said. "Why did it happen to me? You never know."
There's a 1965 article in which she was named cocktail waitress of the month. There's her Realtor card, Mary Anne Hamilton in a bright red blouse, with matching lipstick.
On it, her face is in the center of a $10 bill, replacing Alexander Hamilton.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.