Retracing Hamilton’s Ride to Fatal Duel on July 11, 1804

The question was, have you ever taken a murderer across the Hudson?

“Not that I know of,” said Capt. Tim Byam, at the wheel of a New York Waterway ferry bound for Weehawken, N.J.

At that, the man in the blue blazer standing behind Captain Byam piped up: “He was a killer, but was he a murderer? The other guy had a gun, too.”

It was not a non sequitur. The “he” was Aaron Burr, the vice president under Thomas Jefferson. The “other guy” was Alexander Hamilton, the former secretary of the treasury.

And the man in the blazer the other morning was David O. Stewart, a lawyer-turned-historian who was retracing Burr’s trip to Weehawken, a trip Mr. Stewart said Burr never should have taken. It led to the infamous duel that left Hamilton dying — and Burr’s reputation in tatters.

How different it was 207 years ago Monday, when Burr and Hamilton faced off. Burr went to Weehawken in a smallish rowboat with several oarsmen paddling, not Captain Byam’s 96-foot-long ferry with engines grinding out 1,100 horsepower. Burr’s boat took its time — maybe more than an hour, Mr. Stewart said. Captain Byam made the trip in less than 10 minutes.

Burr could have been splashed in the open boat, or broken a sweat in the humid air. Not Mr. Stewart, standing in the captain’s cabin with an air-conditioner set to 64 degrees.

And then there was the weather. “It was a bright sunny day,” Mr. Stewart said. This day was foggy, and getting worse. Captain Byam turned on the windshield wipers.

Mr. Stewart has written a book, “American Emperor: Aaron Burr’s Challenge to Jefferson’s America.” It is not the kind of book Burr’s fans — who say that he is too often a victim of historical hatchet jobs — will like.

“I’ve always sort of been a Hamilton guy,” Mr. Stewart said. “He was the immigrant who came up from nothing. I found that inspiring.”

The book follows Burr’s descent from aristocrat to political pariah to land-grabbing adventurer. It describes Burr as a vice president with too little to do who spent a little too much time with a general who was on the take from Spain.

Worse, it tells how Burr plotted an insurrection in New Orleans. Of course, things did not work out that way: Burr was arrested leading a ragtag flotilla in Mississippi.

“But you can’t not start with the duel,” Mr. Stewart said, “because it was a critical element in the marginalization of Aaron Burr — his political marginalization.”

So it was off to Weehawken on the 11:10.

“Weehawken was a slaughterhouse” in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Mr. Stewart said.

“A couple dozen duels were fought there,” he said. “The cops couldn’t get you. You’d arrive, and you’d go halfway up this little shelf of land that’s gone. You couldn’t get to the shelf from above.”

Neither could the police, he said, and the boatmen who rowed duelers there and back from Manhattan saw no evil and heard no evil. Gunshots? What gunshots? “Burr’s boatman was called at the trial,” Mr. Stewart said. “He didn’t remember a thing.”

Lauren Sherman, the chairwoman of the Weehawken Historical Commission, drove Mr. Stewart to the monument to the duel, topped by a statue of Hamilton that overlooks new town houses and apartments. She said it was not on the actual site of the duel, which she said was probably close to where exhaust vents for the Lincoln Tunnel have stood for years.

Beside the base of the monument is a boulder on which Hamilton rested his head after being shot, or so legend has it. “I think it has all the credibility of Plymouth Rock,” Mr. Stewart said.

He is lawyer who represented Walter L. Nixon Jr., a federal judge, in an impeachment proceeding in 1989. “It’s sort of an impeachment name,” Mr. Stewart said. “You sort of feel like you’re on the downhill side looking up when you start off with a client named Nixon.” He lost the case: The Senate removed Judge Nixon, who had been the chief district judge in the Southern District of Mississippi.

Mr. Stewart said he did some “volunteer assistance” for the defense before the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton.

Of course, the statue is on Hamilton Avenue.

On the ferry ride back to Manhattan, Captain Byam was talking about the names of the vessels in New York Waterway’s fleet. Burr would not be happy, for somehow he has been left out. One boat is named for Hamilton, another for Thomas Jefferson.

As before, the man in the blazer piped up. “Burr hated Jefferson more than he hated Hamilton; he just wasn’t able to get him to a duel,” Mr. Stewart said. “Jefferson was not a dueling man.”

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Queens Grocery Worker Slain in Robbery

It was around closing time when a masked man with a gun walked into a Queens grocery on Friday night and, as a robbery attempt failed, fatally shot a 65-year-old clerk as he ran for the front door, the authorities said.

The lone customer at the store, the Melani Grocery Store in South Jamaica, fled to the back when the gunman entered about 10 p.m. and was not hurt. No arrests had been made by Saturday afternoon, and detectives said the killer left without taking any property.

The clerk, Jorge Marte, was pronounced dead on arrival at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center. He had been shot once in the chest, the police said. Investigators from the 113th Precinct were trying to determine if any useful images could be retrieved from a video surveillance system inside the store, at 112-44 Guy R. Brewer Boulevard.

On Saturday, those who knew Mr. Marte by his nickname, Jorgie, said he had worked for as long as anyone could remember at the small corner store: A two-story brick structure with a yellow awning at the corner of 112th Road. Many described him as a humble, trusting man with a reputation for tending to others’ needs, even in a business where profits can be counted in dimes and quarters.

“He was everybody’s grandfather,” said T. Nickle, 22, who lives near the grocery and grew up in the neighborhood. “If you were hungry, he would give you a sandwich. If you owed money, he let you go.”
He added: “They didn’t make a lot of money.”

Mr. Nickle, who refused to give his first name, said that Mr. Marte had been planning to take a vacation next week in the Dominican Republic, where he was born.

Other young people from the neighborhood placed a votive candle on the sidewalk by the store’s facade, which was covered by a metal gate. Nearby was evidence of the previous night’s violence: A blood-spattered chair and T-shirt on the ground near a chain-link fence.

“When I woke up this morning and I found out it was him, I said, `Oh my God,’ ” said Yanira Sosa, 26, adding that she had walked by the grocery shortly before Mr. Marte was killed. “I was in shock.”

Jose Rosario, who is the brother of the store’s owner, Sandino Rosario, said he was once a part owner of the store himself but in 1990 sold his interest to his partner at the time, Santos Rubio.

Jose Rosario said that Mr. Rubio was shot and killed in the store, too. The police could not immediately confirm that account.

“It was the same way as Jorge,” Jose Rosario, of Corona, said of the earlier killing.

He added that Mr. Marte began working at the store in 1990. Mr. Rosario, who said he considered Mr. Marte to be like family, was at Jamaica Hospital with Mr. Marte’s family early Saturday morning when a doctor told them that Mr. Marte had died.

“They were very distraught,” Jose Rosario said.

The gunman was wearing blue jeans, a black shirt and a light-colored mask, the police said. Showing the pistol, he “demanded money from the shop-keep,” said a law enforcement official who insisted on anonymity because the investigation was continuing.

When the pistol appeared, the customer ran toward the rear of the establishment, though it was unclear if there was an exit there.

“The perpetrator goes after him,” said the law enforcement official. “The perpetrator chased the customer. That’s when the shop-keep feels he has an opening to exit the store; and the store owner then tries to run out the front. The perpetrator notices he’s leaving.”

At that point, the gunman turned on Mr. Marte and fired one bullet at him, hitting him, the police said.

“The shop-keep stumbles to the front door and collapses at the doorway,” the official said.

Correction: An earlier version of this blog post incorrectly identified the victim’s connection to the store. He is a clerk at the store, not a part owner.

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A Snatched Cat, and Then a Snatched Flier About a Snatched Cat

Melvin Bukiet walked out of his five-story town house on West 108th Street on Tuesday and went the half-block to Broadway to drop a letter in the mailbox.

There, taped to a light post on the corner was a flier bearing a color photograph of a white cat, and the banner headline “Snatched.”

He moved closer and saw that this was about a lost pet. This is how he recollects the wording on the flier.

“SNATCHED: white cat off balcony by large, red-tailed hawk.”

Pet cat snatched by hawk. Could it be? Mr. Bukiet believes so.

“But I also believe a cat could jump off the balcony and catch a hawk in midair — I believe any creature can kill any other creature,” he said.

He alluded to the proliferation of red-tailed hawks in New York City and called this possibility of an invasion of pet-snatching raptors “the other side of that issue.”

By dinnertime, Mr. Bukiet found that the flier he saw had been taken down — a cynic might wonder if it was snatched by the same hawk — and after looking around the immediate area, he saw there were no others.

On Wednesday morning, it was easy to find other people who had seen the sign, but none who had snapped a picture of it.

The question remained: If the hawk was big enough, the cat small enough, and the news day slow enough, could this “Snatched” scenario have happened.

“Definitely, it could happen,” said Gabriel Moroianu, who had also spotted the flier. Mr. Moroianu, who manages the newly opened Mexican restaurant Cascabel Taqueria, near where the flier was posted, said he had great respect for the prowess of urban hawks.

“They don’t hold back,” he said, adding that he witnessed a traumatic hawk attack on a sledding hill in Central Park last winter.

“A hawk swooped down and devoured a pigeon,” he said. “It left a bloody mess and all the kids stopped sledding and were screaming. It was bad.”

Cathy Konciak, a pilates instructor at Pilates Shop/Yoga Garage on Broadway, near where the flier was posted, said she saw the flier and was immediately skeptical.

“The sign said something like, ‘If you find the cat’s body, please give us a call,’ ” she recalled. “Maybe they thought the hawk might have dropped the cat.”

She added, “I thought it was very odd, but it’s New York.”

Lauren Butcher, the education director at the Raptor Trust in Millington, N.J., said it would be “highly unusual” but not impossible for a hawk to fly off with a cat.

Red-tail hawks can have a wingspan as long at five feet, she said, and have been known to seize squirrels, smaller rabbits and occasionally a skunk.

“But a cat is not in their search image, as far as prey,” she said. “I’ve never heard of it happening.”

Then she said, “It’s very difficult to say ‘Absolutely not,’ because truth is stranger than fiction sometimes.”

Mr. Bukiet, a novelist and a writing professor at Sarah Lawrence College, said he kept his three cats off his terrace, not because of the possibility of winged, clawed death from above, but because “it just freaks them out.”

Mr. Bukiet said he saw only the one flier but speculated there were others.

“Logic has it, if you’re going to Xerox a flier and you care about a cat, you’re going to make more than one,” he said. Then he flexed his novelist imagination.

“You really have two stories here,” he said. “The story of the missing cat and the story of the missing fliers. You can imagine some kid who told his mother a hawk came and snatched Fluffy off the balcony. The mom goes out and posters the neighborhood and the kid confesses he dropped Fluffy down the garbage chute. The mom goes out and rips down all the fliers.”

As good an explanation as any.

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