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Archive for the ‘Washington Irving and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ Category

Tarrytown, New York
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Washington Irving is considered the first truly American writer. Moving to Europe in 1815 he write the Sketch Book between 1819-20, which contained the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the story he is most remembered for today.

The story itself is fiction of course, but the characters and the setting was taken from life. As a young man, he would wander among the stones of the cemetery of the Old Dutch Church, made famous in the tale as the point the hapless Ichabod was trying to reach. There he found many of the names of the people who ended up in the story, as well as the basis of the character of the headless horseman.

Some years after returning to the states, he purchased ten acres of land and an old cottage, which he christened Sunnyside. The small, two room stone cottage had been built in 1656 by Dutch-American inhabitant named Wolfert Acker, and had been named Wolfert’s Roost. With a panoramic view of the Hudson, Iriving fell in love and immediately began remodeling, a task which would take most of his life. 

Following Wolfert’s ownership, the cottage fell into the hands of the Van Tassell’s made famous in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. As such, according to legend, it was the inspiration for the home of Baltus Van Tassell. It is here on that fateful night, that the Ichabod Crane, on his borrowed pony Gunpowder, began making his way back to Sleepy Hollow.

The building is now operated as a museum by Historic Hudson Valley

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Tarrytown, New York
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It was the very witching time of night that Ichabod, heavy-hearted and crestfallen, pursued his travels homewards, along the sides of the lofty hills which rise above Tarry Town, and which he had traversed so cheerily in the afternoon. The hour was as dismal as himself. Far below him the Tappan Zee spread its dusky and indistinct waste of waters, with here and there the tall mast of a sloop, riding quietly at anchor under the land. In the dead hush of midnight, he could even hear the barking of the watchdog from the opposite shore of the Hudson; but it was so vague and faint as only to give an idea of his distance from this faithful companion of man. Now and then, too, the long-drawn crowing of a cock, accidentally awakened, would sound far, far off, from some farmhouse away among the hills–but it was like a dreaming sound in his ear. No signs of life occurred near him, but occasionally the melancholy chirp of a cricket, or perhaps the guttural twang of a bullfrog from a neighboring marsh, as if sleeping uncomfortably and turning suddenly in his bed.

From the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, by Washington Irving

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Sleepy Hollow, New York
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All the stories of ghosts and goblins that he had heard in the afternoon now came crowding upon his recollection. The night grew darker and darker; the stars seemed to sink deeper in the sky, and driving clouds occasionally hid them from his sight. He had never felt so lonely and dismal. He was, moreover, approaching the very place where many of the scenes of the ghost stories had been laid. In the centre of the road stood an enormous tulip-tree, which towered like a giant above all the other trees of the neighborhood, and formed a kind of landmark. Its limbs were gnarled and fantastic, large enough to form trunks for ordinary trees, twisting down almost to the earth, and rising again into the air. It was connected with the tragical story of the unfortunate Andre, who had been taken prisoner hard by; and was universally known by the name of Major Andre’s tree. The common people regarded it with a mixture of respect and superstition, partly out of sympathy for the fate of its ill- starred namesake, and partly from the tales of strange sights, and doleful lamentations, told concerning it.

As Ichabod approached this fearful tree, he began to whistle; he thought his whistle was answered; it was but a blast sweeping sharply through the dry branches. As he approached a little nearer, he thought he saw something white, hanging in the midst of the tree: he paused and ceased whistling but, on looking more narrowly, perceived that it was a place where the tree had been scathed by lightning, and the white wood laid bare. Suddenly he heard a groan–his teeth chattered, and his knees smote against the saddle: it was but the rubbing of one huge bough upon another, as they were swayed about by the breeze. He passed the tree in safety, but new perils lay before him.

From “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, by Washington Irving

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Sleepy Hollow, New York

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From Sleepy Hollow, an essay by Washington Irving

The great gathering place of Sleepy Hollow, in those days, was the church. It stood outside of the Hollow, near the great highway; on a green bank, shaded by trees, with the Pocantico sweeping round it, and emptying itself into a spacious mill-pond. At that time, the Sleepy Hollow church was the only place of worship for a wide neighborhood. It was a venerable edifice, partly of stone and partly of brick, the latter having been brought from Holland, in the early days of the province, before the arts in the New Netherlands could aspire to such a fabrication. On a stone above the porch, were inscribed the names of the founders, Frederick Filipsen, a mighty patroon of the olden time, who reigned over a wide extent of this neighborhood, and held his seat of power at Yonkers; and his wife, Katrina Van Courtlandt, of the no less potent line of the Van Courtlandts of Croton, who lorded it over a great part of the Highlands.

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Sleepy Hollow, New York
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About two hundred yards from the tree, a small brook crossed the road, and ran into a marshy and thickly-wooded glen, known by the name of Wiley’s Swamp. A few rough logs, laid side by side, served for a bridge over this stream. On that side of the road where the brook entered the wood, a group of oaks and chestnuts, matted thick with wild grape-vines, threw a cavernous gloom over it. To pass this bridge was the severest trial. It was at this identical spot that the unfortunate Andre was captured, and under the covert of those chestnuts and vines were the sturdy yeomen concealed who surprised him. This has ever since been considered a haunted stream, and fearful are the feelings of the schoolboy who has to pass it alone after dark.

As he approached the stream, his heart began to thump; he summoned up, however, all his resolution, gave his horse half a score of kicks in the ribs, and attempted to dash briskly across the bridge; but instead of starting forward, the perverse old animal made a lateral movement, and ran broadside against the fence. Ichabod, whose fears increased with the delay, jerked the reins on the other side, and kicked lustily with the contrary foot: it was all in vain; his steed started, it is true, but it was only to plunge to the opposite side of the road into a thicket of brambles and alder bushes. The schoolmaster now bestowed both whip and heel upon the starveling ribs of old Gunpowder, who dashed forward, snuffling and snorting, but came to a stand just by the bridge, with a suddenness that had nearly sent his rider sprawling over his head. Just at this moment a plashy tramp by the side of the bridge caught the sensitive ear of Ichabod. In the dark shadow of the grove, on the margin of the brook, he beheld something huge, misshapen and towering. It stirred not, but seemed gathered up in the gloom, like some gigantic monster ready to spring upon the traveller. 

From “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving

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Sleepy Hollow, New York
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But all these were nothing to the tales of ghosts and apparitions that succeeded. The neighborhood is rich in legendary treasures of the kind. Local tales and superstitions thrive best in these sheltered, long-settled retreats; but are trampled under foot by the shifting throng that forms the population of most of our country places. Besides, there is no encouragement for ghosts in most of our villages, for they have scarcely had time to finish their first nap and turn themselves in their graves, before their surviving friends have travelled away from the neighborhood; so that when they turn out at night to walk their rounds, they have no acquaintance left to call upon. This is perhaps the reason why we so seldom hear of ghosts except in our long-established Dutch communities. 

From the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving

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Sleepy Hollow, New York
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The worthy Diedrich pursued his researches in the valley with characteristic devotion; entering familiarly into the various cottages, and gossipping with the simple folk, in the style of their own simplicity. I confess my heart yearned with admiration, to see so great a man, in his eager quest after knowledge, humbly demeaning himself to curry favor with the humblest; sitting patiently on a three-legged stool, patting the children, and taking a purring grimalkin on his lap, while he conciliated the good will of the old Dutch housewife, and drew from her long ghost stories, spun out to the humming accompaniment of her wheel.

His greatest treasure of historic lore, however, was discovered in an old goblin-looking mill, situated among rocks and water-falls, with clanking wheels, and rushing streams, and all kinds of uncouth noises. A horse-shoe, nailed to the door to keep off witches and evil spirits, showed that this mill was subject to awful visitations. As we approached it, an old negro thrust his head, all dabbled with flour, out of a hole above the water-wheel, and grinned, and rolled his eyes, and looked like the very hobgoblin of the place. The illustrious Diedrich fixed upon him, at once, as the very one to give him that invaluable kind of information, never to be acquired from books. He beckoned him from his nest, sat with him by the hour on a broken mill-stone, by the side of the waterfall, heedless of the noise of the water, and the clatter of the mill; and I verily believe it was to his conference with his African sage, and the precious revelations of the good dame of the spinning wheel, that we are indebted for the surprising though true history of Ichabod Crane and the headless horseman, which has since astounded and edified the world.

From Sleepy Hollow, an essay by Washington Irving

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