"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is a short story by American author Washington Irving, contained in his collection of 34 essays and short stories entitled The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. Written while Irving was living abroad in Birmingham, England, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" was first published in 1820. Along with Irving's companion piece "Rip Van Winkle", "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is among the earliest examples of American fiction with enduring popularity.
From the listless repose of the place, and the peculiar character of its inhabitants, who are descendants from the original Dutch settlers, this sequestered glen has long been known by name of Sleepy Hollow ... A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere.
The "Legend" relates the tale of Ichabod Crane, a lean, lanky and extremely superstitious schoolmaster from Connecticut, who competes with Abraham "Brom Bones" Van Brunt, the town rowdy, for the hand of 18-year-old Katrina Van Tassel, the daughter and sole child of a wealthy farmer, Baltus Van Tassel. Crane, a Yankee and an outsider, sees marriage to Katrina as a means of procuring Van Tassel's extravagant wealth. Bones, the local hero, vies with Ichabod for Katrina's hand, playing a series of pranks on the jittery schoolmaster, and the fate of Sleepy Hollow's fortune weighs in the balance for some time. The tension between the three is soon brought to a head. On a placid autumn night, the ambitious Crane attends a harvest party at the Van Tassels' homestead. He dances, partakes in the feast, and listens to ghostly legends told by Brom and the locals, but his true aim is to propose to Katrina after the guests leave. His intentions, however, are ill-fated.
After having failed to secure Katrina's hand, Ichabod rides home "heavy-hearted and crestfallen" through the woods between Van Tassel's farmstead and the Sleepy Hollow settlement. As he passes several purportedly haunted spots, his active imagination is engorged by the ghost stories told at Baltus' harvest party. After nervously passing under a lightning-stricken tulip tree purportedly haunted by the ghost of British spy Major André, Ichabod encounters a cloaked rider at an intersection in a menacing swamp. Unsettled by his fellow traveler's eerie size and silence, the teacher is horrified to discover that his companion's head is not on his shoulders, but on his saddle. In a frenzied race to the bridge adjacent to the Old Dutch Burying Ground, where the Hessian is said to "vanish, according to rule, in a flash of fire and brimstone" upon crossing it, Ichabod rides for his life, desperately goading his temperamental plow horse down the Hollow. However, to the pedagogue's horror, the ghoul clambers over the bridge, rears his horse, and hurls his severed head into Ichabod's terrified face.
The next morning, Ichabod has mysteriously disappeared from town, leaving Katrina to marry Brom Bones, who was said "to look exceedingly knowing whenever the story of Ichabod was related." Indeed, the only relics of the schoolmaster's flight are his wandering horse, trampled saddle, discarded hat, and a mysterious shattered pumpkin. Although the nature of the Headless Horseman is left open to interpretation, the story implies that the ghost was really Brom (an agile stunt rider) in disguise. Irving's narrator concludes, however, by stating that the old Dutch wives continue to promote the belief that Ichabod was "spirited away by supernatural means," and a legend develops around his disappearance and sightings of his melancholy spirit.
The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane (1858) by John Quidor
The more spectral elements of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" were likely based on German folktales concerning "The Wild Huntsman", a ghoulish phantom that would chase interlopers through the woods at maddening speeds. Often this apparition was headless and its victims lacking in virtue or morality. Irving wrote The Sketch Book during a tour of Europe, and German ghost stories proved especially inspiring to his imagination. One particularly influential rendition of this folktale was recorded by the German folklorist Karl Musäus. Headless horsemen were staples of Northern European storytelling, featuring in German, Irish (e.g. Dullahan), Scandinavian (e.g. the Wild Hunt), and English legends. Decapitated riders were known to race through the countryside, heads tucked under their arms, followed by hordes of coal-black hounds with fiery tongues. Usually viewed as omens of ill-fortune for those who chose to disregard their apparitions, these specters found their victims in proud, scheming persons and characters with hubris and arrogance.
During the height of the American Revolutionary War, Irving writes that the country surrounding Tarry Town "was one of those highly-favored places which abound with chronicle and great men. The British and American line had run near it during the war; it had, therefore, been the scene of marauding, and infested with refugees, cow-boys, and all kinds of border chivalry." Westchester County was the site of many raids, skirmishes, war crimes, marauding, and ravishing after the Continental Army abandoned it in October 1776. The British occupied the country south of the Bronx River, and the Americans were fortified north of Peekskill, leaving Westchester County a thirty-mile stretch of scorched and desolated no-man's land, vulnerable to outlaws, raiders, and vigilantes. Besides droves of Loyalist rangers and British light infantry, Hessian Jägers—renowned sharpshooters and horsemen—were among the raiders that often skirmished with Patriot militias. The Headless Horseman, said to be a decapitated Hessian soldier, may have indeed been based loosely on the discovery of just such a Jäger's headless corpse found in Sleepy Hollow after a violent skirmish, and later buried by the Van Tassel family in an unmarked grave in the Old Dutch Burying Ground. The dénouement of the fictional tale is set at the bridge over the Pocantico River in the area of the Old Dutch Church and Burying Ground in Sleepy Hollow.
Irving, while he was an aide-de-camp to New York Gov. Daniel D. Tompkins, met an army captain named Ichabod Crane in Sackets Harbor, New York during an inspection tour of fortifications in 1814. He may have patterned the character in "The Legend" after Jesse Merwin, who taught at the local schoolhouse in Kinderhook, further north along the Hudson River, where Irving spent several months in 1809. The inspiration for the character of Katrina Van Tassel is uncertain, although both Catriena Ecker Van Tessel and her niece Eleanor Van Tassel Brush are buried in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and have been proposed as models.
Ichabod Crane, Respectfully Dedicated to Washington Irving. William J. Wilgus (1819–53), artist Chromolithograph, c. 1856
"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" follows a tradition of folk tales and poems involving a supernatural wild chase, including Robert Burns's "Tam o' Shanter" (1790), and Bürger's Der wilde Jäger, translated as The Wild Huntsman (1796).
In 1988 PBS and Rabbit Ears Productions produced a multi-award winning animated adaptation and a subsequent book depicting the Irving story. Illustrations, direction, and adaptation were done by Robert Van Nutt, with music by Tim Story, and narration performed by Glenn Close.
The Real Ghostbusters featured an episode with a descendant of Ichabod Crane, cursed by a headless apparition on a motorcycle who viciously pursues men to whom she is attracted.
Another headless motorcycle rider decapitating his victims, alluding to the traditional Headless Horseman legend, was featured in the episode "Chopper" on the 1974 TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker starring Darren McGavin.
In the Nickelodeon horror anthology television series Are You Afraid of the Dark?, its third season episode "The Tale of the Midnight Ride" serves as a sequel to the classic story. In this episode a boy named Ian Matthews moves to Sleepy Hollow, New York, where he develops a crush on Katie. One night after the Halloween dance, they see the ghost of Ichabod Crane and send him over the bridge that the Headless Horseman cannot cross, unintentionally prompting the Headless Horseman to pursue them instead of Crane.
"Sugar-Frosted Frights", an episode of Rocko's Modern Life, parodies the character as the Hopping Hessian, who carries his right leg instead of his head.
"Halloween Hound: The Legend of Creepy Collars" was the second-season premiere of the PBS series Wishbone. In this 1997 episode, Wishbone imagines himself as Ichabod Crane and re-enacts the Headless Horseman story in his imagination when his owner, Joe Talbot, goes on a Halloween night scavenger hunt. In Wishbone's imagination, he is scared off by the Headless Horseman. Like the original story, it is heavily implied that Brom is the Headless Horseman when his horse's collar resembles that of the Horseman.
Sleepy Hollow (1999) was a feature film directed by Tim Burton. The adaptation takes many liberties with the plot and characters, changing Crane from the local schoolmaster into a police constable sent from New York City to investigate recent murders, and the Horseman being used as a weapon against the local landowners. Johnny Depp starred as Ichabod Crane while Christopher Walken plays the Headless Horseman. The cast also featured Christina Ricci as Katrina and Casper Van Dien as Brom.
Sleepy Hollow (2013), a fantasymysterydrama series co-created by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Phillip Iscove and Len Wiseman airing on the Fox network. In the series, Ichabod Crane is reimagined as an English professor and turncoat during the American Revolutionary War, who awakens in the 21st century and encounters the Headless Horseman, a felled mercenary Crane had decapitated 250 years prior. Crane teams up with Abbie Mills, a lieutenant in the town of Sleepy Hollow's sheriff's department, and together they try to stop the murderous Horseman (who is purportedly Death), and uncover a conspiracy involving supernatural forces.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1989), a one-act stage adaptation by Kathryn Schultz Miller.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow for Speaker & Orchestra (1999), a 15-minute composition by Robert Lichtenberger; it premiered October 2001 by Lincoln's Symphony Orchestra (Lincoln, NE) conducted by Tyler White.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1998) - An abridged version narrated by Winifred Phillips and produced for the Radio Tales series on National Public Radio. The program was released on audiocassette by Durkin Hayes Publishing Ltd in 1998 as a part of both its DH Audio catalog and its “Paperback Audio” line (ISBN 0886469031).
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (2005). Produced by The Colonial Radio Theatre on the Air and released by Blackstone Audio. Faithfully adapted from the book by Washington Irving, this production has an elaborate music score by Jeffrey Gage, sound effects, and a full cast. Originally released as a "Halloween Pick" by Barnes & Noble bookstores, the production went on to win the Ogle Award for "Best Fantasy Production of 2005." The cast includes Lincoln Clark as Ichabod Crane, Joseph Zamparelli Jr. as Brom Bones, and Diane Capen as Katrina Van Tassel. The book was dramatized, produced and directed by Jerry Robbins. On Halloween 2005, the production was broadcast coast to coast on XM Radio's Sonic Theater, and repeated the following year. It continues to be one of Colonial's most popular titles in release.
Historic Hudson Valley produced with Platters, a dramatic reading of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (2008) with musical effects by Matt Noble. Parent's Choice gave it the Silver award in 2009, noting; "Here, master storyteller Jonathan Kruk delivers the story as an audio book, with colorful eloquence backed by orchestral radiance. While remaining true to Irving’s original text, Kruk boosts the story’s energy through his highly skilled reading."
"Ichabod Crane, Master of the Occult" (2012) is a sequel to the original story, written by D. K. Thompson and produced by Marshal Latham on the Journey Intopodcast.
In 1997, the village of North Tarrytown, New York, where many events of the story took place, changed its name to Sleepy Hollow. The high school teams are named "the Horsemen".
In 2006, a large statue depicting the Headless Horseman chasing Ichabod Crane was placed along Route 9 in Sleepy Hollow/Tarrytown, New York.
Since 1996, nonprofit organization Historic Hudson Valley has held "Legend Weekend", an event at the Philipsburg Manor House in Sleepy Hollow, featuring a rider portraying the Headless Horseman and a storyteller retelling The Legend of Sleepy Hollow as a historic celebration attended by thousands annually before Halloween.
Town and village names:
Sleepy Hollow, Illinois, many of the street names reflect characters from the tale, and the image of the Headless Horseman can be found on many of the city's landmarks and publications.
The Ichabod Crane School District, Valatie, New York. The school's sports teams are called "The Riders" and a silhouette of Ichabod Crane on his horse is often representative of the home team while a silhouette of the Headless Horseman is representative of the opponent. The wings in the junior high school are also named for characters and places, such as Katrina Van Tassel and Sleepy Hollow.
Sleepy Hollow Elementary
Orinda, California has Washington Ln., Sleepy Hollow Ln., Tarry Ln., Van Ripper Ln., Van Tassel Ln., Tappan Ln., Crane Ct.,
^Brian Haughton, Famous Ghost Stories: Legends and Lore. (2012)
^Harry M. Ward, The War of Independence and the Transformation of American Society, ISBN 185728657X
^Jonathan Kruk, Legends and Lore of Sleepy Hollow & the Hudson Valley,ISBN 1596297980
^A letter from Merwin Irving was endorsed in Irving's handwriting: "From Jesse Merwin, the original of Ichabod Crane" Life and Letters of Washington Irving, New York: G.P. Putnam and Son, 1869, vol. 3, pp. 185–186.