"Interview" in Weehawken

The morning of July 11, two men in pantaloons and ponytails face each other on a rocky New Jersey ledge, draw pistols, and fire. When the smoke clears, Alexander Hamilton's on the ground, felled by Aaron Burr's bullet. Just like 1804—except the bullets are blanks, these aren't Alexander and Aaron but Douglas and Antonio, and there's a crowd of 2,000 looking on.

Deadly Duel In 1804, the news that the sitting vice president had killed a founding father in an illegal "interview" (as duels were euphemistically known) shocked a young nation, destroying Burr's reputation and making Hamilton a martyr. Two centuries later, Lauren Sher-man, co-chair of the Weehawken Historical Commission and chief organizer of the reenactment, says, "We wanted a more balanced portrayal of who these people were and what led to the duel." (For start-ers, 15 years of political rivalry, plus Hamilton's still-unknown "despicable opinion" of Burr, which helped defeat the latter in his bid for New York governor.) She found Hamilton's fifth great-grandson Douglas online, while Burr's relations drafted Antonio, a cousin from the Chilean branch of the family. With a Burr and a Hamilton squaring off for the bicentennial, "We knew we had this amazing hook," says Sherman.

Fierce Fortnight Sherman, duel-ignorant until she moved to Weehawken 11 years ago and "devoured 12 or 13 books" on the gunfight, juggled a full-time job as landscape designer while planning four consecutive events: a wreath-laying ceremony at Hamilton's statue, the reenactment, a dedication of new historical markers, and a historians' symposium. Despite an early publicity campaign, media interest didn't pick up until the last two weeks, nearly driving Sherman "nuts." And with cast members scattered across the country, the sole reenactment rehearsal was the day before: "It was pretty remarkable that everyone did what they were supposed to!"

Sherman was creative in her search for sponsors, approaching both the Bank of New York (which Hamilton founded) and JPMorgan Chase (today's equivalent of the Burr-founded Manhattan Company). She also used government grants, donations from Whole Foods and the local Sheraton (which peaceably housed both Burrs and Hamiltons), plus proceeds from sales of T-shirts, books, and commemorative coins. It wasn't easy; a full two months after the event, for instance, JPMorgan had yet to pay its promised $1,000.

With 2,000 people converging on a tiny park right outside Manhattan's Lincoln Tunnel, security was already "intense," Sherman says, but got even more so with an ominous phone call that led organizers to fear for participants' lives. Luckily, nothing happened, and thanks to the township of Weehawken's role as event sponsor, local police provided security, giving Sherman one less ball to keep in the air. It was her first planning experience and will probably be her last. "The mayor said, 'We won't do this for another two hundred years,' " she laughs. "I agree."