Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Legend of Sleepy Hollow

During this Halloween season I thought it would be a good time to discuss the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow”.  I remember when I was a small child seeing the classic Disney animated movie which told the story of a man named Ichabod Crane.  The local living history farm not far from where we live has an autumn festival and the highlight of the hayride is always the appearance of the Headless Horseman and our family has made it an annual must-see event that we enjoy.


“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is originally a short story written by Washington Irving and first published in 1820 under the pseudonym of Geoffrey Crayon.  The story is based on an old German folktale known as “The Wild Huntsman” about a phantom rider which sometimes appeared headless as he would chase trespassers through the woods.  Irving had been inspired by these German tales and wrote the story as part of his book, “The Sketch Book”, while he was visiting Europe.

Irving had set the story in the time of the American Revolutionary War in the countryside near Tarrytown, New York.  During the war this area of Westchester County, which was situated between the lines of the Continental Army and the British troops, had been the location of several raids and skirmishes conducted by the Loyalists with the help of Hessian soldiers against the Patriots.  The legend is that the Headless Horseman was said to be a Hessian Soldier that had been found decapitated after one very violent skirmish and then later buried in an unmarked grave over the bridge in the Old Dutch Church Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow.

The unusual name of the character of Ichabod Crane is said to have come from directly from Irving who had met an Army Captain by that same name in 1814.  The character of Ichabod was modeled after a real person named Jesse Merwin who was a local school teacher in Kinderhook, NY where Irving had visited in 1809.  The character of Katrina was possibly inspired by a real person, either Catriena or Eleanor Van Tassel who are both buried in the cemetery in Sleepy Hollow.

“Legend of Sleepy Hollow” synopsis

The story is about a tall, lean and very superstitious schoolteacher.  He is in love with Katrina who is the daughter of a wealthy farmer, Baltus Van Tassel, who opposed the marriage.  Abraham van Brunt, “Bones”, was also pursuing Katrina and he set about playing a series of pranks to unsettle Ichabod.  Then in autumn there was a harvest party at the Van Tassel house and Ichabod was going to propose to Katrina that night but he failed to win her hand.

At the party “Bones” had been telling ghost stories and as Ichabod rode home, sadden by his failure to win Katrina’s hand in marriage, he became haunted by those stories.  As Ichabod passes through the woods near Sleepy Hollow he encounters a shadowy headless figure on horseback and extremely frightened he races to cross over the bridge at the Old Dutch Cemetery where legend has it that he will be safe from harm.

The Headless Horseman chasing Ichabod Crane

The next morning, Ichabod has mysteriously disappeared from town and Katrina eventually marries “Bones” who sees delightfully happy with these turn of events.  The story concludes that “Bones” was in fact was the Headless Horseman.

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