Favorite spooky stories:  Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Let’s “face” it, Sleepy Hollow is scary.  The concept, the story or the excellent movie by Tim Burton with its terrific spooky rural eerie countryside ambience – doesn’t matter which one you mean, ’cause they’re all creepy.  And yes, there’s also a major Haunted Attraction in Ulster, NY that pays homage to the headless wonder.   So in honor of the boo-tiful fest of Allhallowtide, here’s our primer on Sleepy Hollow.

First, a little background on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  Originally, it was a short story by American author Washington Irving for the book The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.  Named for George Washington, Irving was born in 1783, the same week the British surrendered to Washington and the Continental (revolutionary) army at Yorktown, VA.  In addition to being an author and essayist, Irving was a biographer, historian, and diplomat of the early 19th century.

sleepy hollow cemetery - headless horseman w pumpkin

He wrote a biography of his namesake along with several other books of a historical nature, including on one Christopher Columbus.  Irving also served as the U.S. ambassador to Spain from 1842 to 1846.  Prior to that, he traveled to Spain shortly after completing his Columbus bio and wrote one of Marie’s favorite American books, Tales of the Alhambra, which recounts the real and fictional story of the Alhambra as well as some mention of Irving’s stay in the fabled Moorish palace (his celebrity status as a famous writer not only got him access but allowed him to stay there for weeks).

Sleepy Hollow, however, along with the short story “Rip Van Winkle,” is certainly much better known.  Irving wrote “Rip Van Winkle,” his first spooky, frightening story, in 1819.  Rip, poisoned by presumed ghosts, sleeps for 20 years in New York’s Catskill Mountains and loses the best years of his life.

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was published in 1820.  The Headless Horseman, a folk figure in European legends, was purported to be a Hessian trooper whose noggin met a Continental army cannonball during a battle.  Hessians were German mercenaries contracted to fight for the British against the Colonials during the Revolutionary War.  Irving’s inspiration was said to be likely based on German folktales about the “The Wild Huntsman,” an evil apparition that would chase people through the woods at breakneck speeds.  As if not having a head wasn’t scary enough – talk about overkill!

Interesting tidbit:  Wikipedia says Irving popularized the nickname “Gotham” for New York City – which, of course, became the mythic city protected by the Batman, as Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies refer to him has. Gotham is an Anglo-Saxon word that translates to (of all things) “Goat’s Town.”

Washington Irving's home, Sunnyside in Tarrytown, NY, is now a National Historic Landmark.  (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Washington Irving’s home, Sunnyside in Tarrytown, NY, is now a National Historic Landmark. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Irving’s home was the cozy Sunnyside in nearby Tarrytown, NY just north of Sleepy Hollow. Today it’s a National Historic Landmark. To the south of Sleepy Hollow is the town of Irvington, NY, which was renamed after Irving in 1854. He died there in 1859 and is buried in the Sleepy Hollow (NY) Cemetery. You can see a photo of his headstone here.

Now that we’ve got that background set for you, here are some great Sleepy Hollow Halloween links so you can join the Headless Horseman on his stomping grounds, or his website:

We hope you all have fun with these attractions and web sites. After all, what have you got to lose? (Well, other than the obvious; misery and the horseman love company.)

Happy headless horrors!
Michael & Marie


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