Spots in Time – Gord Turner
You’ve heard the legends about Sleepy Hollow. It’s a village in New York State along the Hudson River and north of New York City. It is featured in Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow published in The Sketch Book in 1820. Only one other story of Irving’s, Rip Van Winkle, has any claim to fame. But the tale of schoolmaster Ichabod Crane and the headless horseman keeps returning to amaze us at this time of year.
Recently, while in New York, we drove to Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown to see the areas featured in Irving’s stories. We discovered a modern town, but it had a sense of place that time might have forgotten. If we slipped away from the main street of Tarrytown, we could imagine an earlier period of carriages and horses and small Dutch farms. If we looked closely enough, we might even imagine Ichabod sauntering over the hill on his way to teach the Dutch children of Sleepy Hollow.
At Tarrytown, we visited one of the area’s Dutch farms that has been kept in the style of the 17th century — a place called Philipsburg farm. There was a wood and brick farm house complete with furnishings of the time. Nearby was a building housing a waterwheel used to grind the grain for the farm. A large barn stood not far off and was used mainly for drying, packaging, and storing the farm’s many products.
Although the farm work was carried out for many years by slaves, it was not difficult for us to imagine a Dutch family overseeing things. And here Ichabod Crane, who was always hungry, would possibly visit for dinner. Here he might also have met the lovely Katrina Van Tassel, with whom he fell in love.
The 18th Century in America — and the earlier Dutch period that Irving wrote about — was a period of much fear and superstition. After all, the Indians lived not far beyond the quiet villages, and the ghosts of citizens-past often wandered down from the nearby gravesites. It turns out that Ichabod Crane was incredibly superstitious, which is why he was finally vanquished in the battle to claim the hand of Katrina.
Katrina had Ichabod tied up in knots, but one powerful local lad, Brom Bones Van Brunt, wanted her for himself. And yet throughout the story, he simply gets outdone by the simple charm and innocence of Ichabod Crane.
That is, until the end of the story when the ghost rider of Dutch legend and his decapitated head come into play.
Knowing how strong the power of suggestion is, Brom has told a story to a large group of people about a headless horseman who rides on moonlit nights with the aim of finding someone alone and regaining a head. Later, on his way home, Ichabod is chased by what appears to be a headless horseman. Ichabod is beyond himself with fear but remembers that if he can cross a particular bridge, he can’t be touched by the headless horseman.
There is a frightening chase in the cloud-filtered moonlit night. Ultimately, Ichabod does reach the bridge where the horseman tosses his head after the retreating schoolmaster. The decapitated head turns out to be a pumpkin, but Ichabod does not know that, and so overnight he leaves Sleepy Hollow for a less dangerous place.
You can view this haunting story by downloading Disney’s animated cartoon of the legend. It was created in 1949 and renewed in 1958 with a magnificent narration by Bing Crosby. Many movies and scene-excerpts have been produced since then, particularly Sleepy Hollow starring Johnny Depp in 1999.