Nestled in a vale bordering the Hudson River, Sleepy Hollow, NY is the famous setting for Washington Irving’s eponymous short story, which introduced the world to Ichabod Crane and the diabolical headless horseman in 1820. Irving didn’t say whether “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” took place on Halloween night. But the town–which was called North Tarrytown until the late 1990s–will nonetheless welcome ghosts and goblins for a historic Halloween 2010.
Sleepy Hollow, NY in Fiction
Set in 1790 near the Hudson River port of “Tarry Town,” Irving describes Sleepy Hollow, a seemingly bucolic “little valley or lap of land among high hills, which is one of the quietest places in the whole world.”
Yet all in this idyll is not as it seems. The people of Sleepy Hollow–Dutch settlers and veterans of the Revolutionary War–nurse beliefs in ghosts, goblins and the specter of a Hessian horseman who lost his head to a patriot’s cannonball.
Ichabod Crane, Tarrytown’s superstitious schoolteacher whose appetite belies his tall and lanky frame, longs to marry Katrina van Tassel, the comely daughter of a wealthy Dutch farmer.
Crane attends a celebration of the autumnal harvest at the Van Tassel homestead in hopes of wooing Katrina. During the party, a group of old Dutchmen trade tales about the spectral headless horseman of nearby Sleepy Hollow, a hamlet dominated by a Dutch stone church and graveyard:
“The sequestered situation of this church seems always to have made it a favorite haunt of troubled spirits. It stands on a knoll, surrounded by locust-trees and lofty elms, from among which its descent, white-washed walls shine modestly forth, like Christian purity, beaming through the shades of retirement. A gentle slope descends from it to a silver sheet of water, bordered by high trees, between which, peeps may be caught at the blue hills of the Hudson. To look upon this grass-grown yard, where the sunbeams seem to sleep so quietly, one would think that there at least the dead might rest in peace.
“On one side of the church extends a wide woody dell, along which raves a large brook among the broken rocks and trunks of fallen trees. Over a deep black part of the stream, not far from the church, was formerly thrown a wooden bridge; the road that led to it, and the bridge itself, were thickly shaded by overhanging trees, which cast a gloom about it, even in the day-time; but occasioned a fearful darkness at night. Such was one of the favorite haunts of the headless horseman, and the place where he was most frequently encountered.”
As the clock strikes midnight, the party breaks apart and Ichabod seeks a private moment with Katrina–only to be soundly rebuffed. Dejected, Crane mounts his horse and rides warily towards home. In vain he tried to keep the stories of ghosts and goblins from his mind; every rustle and whistle of wind through the trees sent shivers up his neck. Suddenly an apparition on an enormous horse appears, silhouetted against the moon, distinctly lacking a head–and Crane runs for his life.
Sleepy Hollow, NY Celebrates Halloween 2010
Many of the historic settings Irving mentions still stand in Sleepy Hollow. The Old Dutch Church and Burying Ground, where Ichabod Crane seeks refuge, occupies the “knoll” Irving describes. The fieldstone church was built in 1685 by Frederick Philipse, the lord of Philipse Manor and the town’s benefactor. His former property, now the site of Philipsburg Manor, is visible across Route 9.
In the church’s burying ground, weathered tombstones bear idiosyncratic Dutch inscriptions and date back to the seventeenth century. The Dutch churchyard is separate from the adjacent Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Irving is buried.
The Old Dutch Church’s yard is bordered to the south by the Pocantico River–the same water over which Crane flees from the horseman. A steel sculpture on the southern bank reimagines Crane’s frantic escape, while a historic marker describes the path of the horseman’s pursuit.
Since 1996, Sleepy Hollow has celebrated Halloween with dramatic readings of Irving’s tale and other spooky scenes, and Halloween 2010 carries on the tradition.
Historic Hudson Valley, the nonprofit group overseeing historic sites near Tarrytown, sponsors several spine-tingling events. The Great Jack-O-Lantern Blaze features 4,000 hand-carved pumpkins in fantastic array on the grounds of Van Cortlandt Manor; a candlelit reading of “Legend” inside the Old Dutch Church, complete with organ music; Horseman’s Hollow, an elaborate haunted house on the ground of Philipsburg Manor (new for Halloween 2010); and a family-friendly celebration of “Legend” at Sunnyside, Washington Irving’s estate. Tickets are available from the organization’s website, though events may be sold out in advance.
Friends of the Old Dutch Church and Burying Ground offer tours of “Sleepy Hollow Country” on weekend through October. The walk takes visitors past the actual locations of sites mentioned in Irving’s “Legend:” the van Tassel farm, the giant tulip tree where the British spy John Andre was hanged, the bridge where Crane met the horseman, and the church itself.
The Sleepy Hollow Cemetery leads evening tours of the graves and vaults–by lantern–during October and November. Though these singularly spooky walks are often sold out in advance, visitors who manage to get tickets trick-and-treated to resting places of Revolutionary War soldiers, 19th-century industrialists, criminals and artists; plus funerary architecture and a century-old underground vault. Like many of New York’s cemeteries, Sleepy Hollow features a permanent cast of unique characters practicing their roles for Halloween 2010.
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