The Lincoln Tunnel Helix and the Hamilton Death Rock

By Portfolio Editor Roz Hamlett

Across the Hudson River from NYC is the town of Weehawken, N.J.  Founded in 1859, it’s been home to the rich and famous, to casinos, hotels and theaters and a major rail and shipping hub. Today, it hosts the western terminus of the Lincoln Tunnel and the almost 80-year-old helix leading directly into the toll plaza.

Every morning during peak hours, the helix accommodates some 700,000 commuters and about 2,000 buses traveling into Manhattan via the XBL (Exclusive Bus Lane), the busiest bus lane in the world. Forty million vehicles use the helix every year to travel back and forth between New Jersey and New York.


The Death Rock is the actual rock on which Alexander Hamilton’s head is said to have rested after he was shot to death by Aaron Burr, then Vice President of the United States.

The helix brings vehicles very near the site of one of the nation’s momentous events, though it isn’t something that would cross anyone’s mind, unless he or she happens to have tickets to Hamilton, the popular Broadway musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton, the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and founder of the Bank of New York (now BNY Mellon).  In recent years, BNY Mellon serves the Port Authority as the trustee for all of its bond issuances.

The Lincoln Tunnel is within striking distance of the Death Rock at the Alexander Hamilton Monument. The Death Rock is the actual rock on which Hamilton’s head is said to have rested after he was mortally wounded in a pistol duel with Aaron Burr, then Vice President of the United States.  The rock is located on tiny Hamilton Avenue at the southern tip of Weehawken, just north of the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel.


The relationship between Burr and Hamilton began as a political war of words that escalated out of control.  Hamilton considered Burr a dangerous bully and bad for the country.  The situation became deadly when Hamilton tried to block Burr’s re-nomination for Vice President.

Hamilton Death Rock 4_OTIS


At dawn on the morning of the duel, Hamilton crossed the Hudson with two witnesses, one of whom was a doctor. The men faced off and Hamilton fell to the ground.  Dr. [Hosack] rushed to his side, later publishing what he had witnessed: “His countenance of death I shall never forget.  He had at that instant just strength to say, ‘This is a mortal wound, doctor;’ when he sunk away, and became to all appearance lifeless. His pulses were not to be felt, his respiration was entirely suspended, and laying my hand on his heart, I considered him irrecoverably gone.”

As Hamilton was carried to the river bank to make the trip back across the Hudson, the doctor began to notice signs of life.  “In a few minutes he sighed. . . he breathed; his eyes hardly opened, wandered; to our great joy, he spoke.  He cast his eye upon the case of pistols, and observing the [pistol] that he had had in his hand, he said, ‘Take care of that pistol; it is undischarged and still cocked; it may go off and do harm.  I did not intend to fire at him.’”

Hamilton lingered for a day at his Manhattan home before dying the next day – the pistol’s ball lodged next to his spine. In 2015, the current Treasury Secretary, Jack Lew, announced that the portrait of Hamilton on the $10 bill would be replaced by the portrait of Harriet Tubman, the former slave and abolitionist, but due to the extreme popularity of the Broadway musical, the decision was reversed recently and Hamilton will remain on the bill.


Hamilton is buried in the churchyard of Trinity Wall Street Church.



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