15 years after "National Treasure" came out, here's the real story of the Manhattan church that the movie suggests hides buried loot
Courtesy of Tiani Jones/Trinity Church
The stained glass wall inside Trinity Church in New York City.
- The historic Trinity Church and cemetery are located in downtown Manhattan near Wall Street.
- The church, which has been rebuilt three times since 1697, featured prominently in the 2004 film "National Treasure."
- In the movie, a historian played by Nicholas Cage discovers hidden treasure under Trinity Church.
- In reality, there's no treasure in the building, but a Trinity Church archivist says it has plenty of other fun secrets.
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In the universe of the film "National Treasure," Trinity Church's imposing dark brick and skyward spire hide secrets and treasure.
In Disney's 2004 movie, Nicholas Cage plays a historian and treasure hunter who uses a map on the back of the Declaration of Independence to track down an assortment of gold, jewels, and artifacts buried in the catacombs of Trinity Church. The treasure was, according to the film's plot, hidden there by the Free Masons - a real secret society whose membership boasted revolutionaries like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Alexander Hamilton.
The true story of Trinity Church, which is located in the heart of Manhattan's financial district, involves a lot less gold and lot more history, according to church archivist Joseph Lapinski.
Fifteen years after "National Treasure" hit theaters - the movie came out in November 2014 - queries about the church's connection to the Free Masons' treasure have finally died down, Lapinski told Business Insider. (Nearly everything depicted in the movie pertaining to Trinity Church is untrue, he said.)
"Oddly enough, I don't get too many questions about 'National Treasure' to have a queued up list anymore," Lapinski said. He has worked at Trinity since 2013.
These days, visitors are more interested in the church's role in the American Revolution, since Alexander Hamilton and his wife Ezra (made newly famous by the musical "Hamilton") owned a pew, worshipped there, and were buried in the adjacent cemetery.
Here's what "National Treasure" got wrong about Trinity Church - and the real secrets the building holds, according to Lapinski.
In "National Treasure," Cage's character plunders a crypt to uncover a secret passage leading to the treasure. But Lapinski said nobody is buried under the church.
Instead, Trinity Church boasts an outdoor burial ground.
Trinity Church's cemetery was in high demand during the 1700s. "The who's who of old New York are buried in Trinity Church," Lapinski said.
The Free Masons was originally a stone workers' organization, which formed in the UK in the 1500s and spread to the American colonies.
Although some of the headstones in the church graveyard have masonic symbols on them, Trinity Church isn't affiliated with the organization, Lapinski said.
"It's not anything tied to Trinity as a headquarters that brought Masons in," Lapinski said.
Trinity Church was founded as an Anglican church, meaning it required clergy to be loyal to the British crown.
Alexander Hamilton and George Washington, for example, were high-profile patriots.
The original Trinity Church stood from 1697 to 1776, but it burned down during the Great Fire of New York City.
The church's ruins sat until 1790, when it was rebuilt after the revolution. The second Trinity Church stood until 1838, when its support beams buckled after a winter of heavy snow.
Builders of the first Trinity Church got some help from an unexpected source: a notorious pirate.
Lapinski said he thinks stories like Kidd's that are preserved in the church archives are more interesting than anything in "National Treasure."
One of those documents is the church's original charter.
The archives also include lists of pew owners and people whose headstones sit in the church yard.
"As the city has grown around the church, the building has been forced to grow with it in lots of cool ways," Lapinski said.
The view of the iconic church spire from nearby Wall Street has remained unchanged.
The church looks the same, 105 years after the above photo was taken.
The church's $98 million renovation, partly designed to make the building more accessible, started in May 2018.
The nearby St. Paul's Chapel in downtown Manhattan also belongs to Trinity Church, as does the Trinity Church Mausoleum and Cemetery (established in 1842) on 155th Street in upper Manhattan.
In total, Trinity Church owns 14 acres of real estate in Manhattan.
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