The Real Story Behind 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow'

Fall has officially arrived and that means cool, crisp days, hot chocolate, fires, pumpkins, and spooky ghost stories! Who doesn’t love a good chilling tale of fright and mystery? One of my favorite tales from the time I was a young girl has been “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” by Washington Irving. The first time I heard it was when my teacher read it to us in class for the month of October. It captivated me, and I have been a fan ever since. The headless horseman rode his steed, chasing the lanky, fearful schoolmaster, Ichabod Crane, through the countryside one dark and ominous night, and he was never seen again.

The story is actually based on folklore that Irving had heard in Tarrytown, New York, in the 1700s as the Revolutionary War was nearing the end. German Hessian mercenaries from the area, known for their excellent sharpshooting and horsemanship skills as well as their ruthlessness, had been hired by the British Empire to serve during the American Revolutionary War. Irving’s headless horseman was said to be based on the ghost of a Hessian soldier who was decapitated and then buried in an unmarked grave in the cemetery at the Old Dutch Burying Ground.

Ichabod Crane was a real person. Irving met the military man at Fort Pike in Sackett’s Harbor, New York, in 1814. His name made an impression on the writer, which stuck, but the mannerisms and personality of the character were based on a schoolmaster with whom Irving became friends while in Kinderhook, New York.

Sleepy Hollow was fabricated by Irving, but the residents of Tarrytown are so sure that the tale is about their village that in 1996 they renamed it Sleepy Hollow. The town comes alive during Halloween. There are fall festivities by day, with walking tours, seasonal craft beers, and pumpkin fests. At dusk it transforms into a dark and creepy scare fest. Readings of “Sleepy Hollow” echo from the stone church, and a headless horseman haunts the streets, while brave souls cross the bridge depicted in the book into the haunted house. Irving is even buried in the cemetery.

If you are a fan of this classic literary masterpiece, visiting Sleepy Hollow is a must! I can’t wait to go!