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"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is a gothic 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, especially during Halloween because of a character known as the Headless Horseman believed to be a Hessian soldier who was decapitated by a cannonball in battle.[1]

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"
Ichabods chase crop.jpg
"Ichabod Crane pursued by the Headless Horseman",
by F.O.C. Darley, 1849
AuthorWashington Irving
CountryUnited States
SeriesThe Sketch Book
Genre(s)Gothic horror
Published inThe Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.
Media typeHardback & paperback
Publication date1820
Published in English1820
Preceded by"The Angler"
Followed by"L'Envoy"



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.

— Washington Irving, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"

The story is set in 1790 in the countryside around the Dutch settlement of Tarry Town (historical Tarrytown, New York), in a secluded glen called Sleepy Hollow. Sleepy Hollow is renowned for its ghosts and the haunting atmosphere that pervades the imaginations of its inhabitants and visitors. Some residents say this town was bewitched during the early days of the Dutch settlement. Other residents say an old Native American chief, the wizard of his tribe, held his powwows here before the country was discovered by Master Hendrick Hudson. The most infamous spectre in the Hollow is the Headless Horseman, said to be the ghost of a Hessian trooper who had his head shot off by a stray cannonball during "some nameless battle" of the American Revolutionary War, and who "rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head".

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. Ichabod 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 among 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 Crane's horror, the ghoul clambers over the bridge, rears his horse, and hurls his severed head into Ichabod's terrified face. The schoolmaster attempts to duck beneath the terrible missile, but is too late when it strikes his head and sends him tumbling headlong into the dust.

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 true nature of both the Headless Horseman and Ichabod's disappearance that night are left open to interpretation, the story implies that the ghost was really Brom (an agile stunt rider) in disguise, and suggests that Crane was knocked off his horse and immediately fled Sleepy Hollow, never to return there again. Irving's narrator concludes the story, 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

Irving wrote The Sketch Book during a tour of Europe, and parts of the tale may also be traced to European origins. Headless horsemen were staples of Northern European storytelling, featuring in German, Irish (e.g., Dullahan), Scandinavian (e.g., the Wild Hunt), and English legends, and were included in Robert Burns's poem "Tam o' Shanter" (1790) and Bürger's Der wilde Jäger, translated as The Wild Huntsman (1796). 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.[2] One particularly influential rendition of this folktale was recorded by the German folklorist Karl Musäus.[3]

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."

Headless Horseman Bridge

After the Battle of White Plains in October 1776, the country south of the Bronx River was abandoned by the Continental Army and occupied by the British. The Americans were fortified north of Peekskill, leaving Westchester County a 30-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 who often skirmished with Patriot militias.[4] 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.[5] 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. Irving 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.[6] The inspiration for the character of Katrina Van Tassel was based on an actual young woman named Katrina Van Tassel. Washington Irving stayed with her family for a short time, and asked permission to use her name, and loosely base the character on her. He told her and her family he liked to give his characters the names of people he had met. [7]

Ichabod Crane, Respectfully Dedicated to Washington Irving. William J. Wilgus (1819–53), artist Chromolithograph, c. 1856

The story was the longest one published as part of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (commonly referred to as The Sketch Book), which Irving issued serially throughout 1819 and 1820, using the pseudonym "Geoffrey Crayon".[8] With "Rip Van Winkle", "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is one of Irving's most anthologized, studied, and adapted sketches. Both stories are often paired together in books and other representations, and both are included in surveys of early American literature and Romanticism.[9] Irving's depictions of regional culture and his themes of progress versus tradition, supernatural intervention in the commonplace, and the plight of the individual outsider in an homogeneous community permeate both stories and helped to develop a unique sense of American cultural and existential selfhood during the early 19th century.[10]


Film and televisionEdit

Will Rogers as Ichabod Crane in The Headless Horseman (1922)

Notable film and television variations include:

  • The Headless Horseman (1922), a silent film directed by Edward Venturini and starring Will Rogers as Ichabod Crane. It was filmed on location in New York's Hudson River Valley.
  • The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949), an animated adaptation directed by James Algar, Clyde Geronimi, and Jack Kinney, produced by Walt Disney Productions, and narrated by Bing Crosby. This version is more lighthearted and family-friendly than Irving's original story and most other adaptations, while the climactic chase is more extended than in the original story. It was rereleased individually in 1958 as The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1980), a television film directed by Henning Schellerup and filmed in Utah, starring Jeff Goldblum, Meg Foster, and Dick Butkus. Executive producer Charles Sellier was nominated for an Emmy Award for his work on the movie.[11] Crane is depicted as a skeptic regarding ghosts and the supernatural.
  • "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (1985), the premiere episode of Shelley Duvall's Tall Tales and Legends series, stars Ed Begley Jr. as Ichabod Crane, Beverly D'Angelo as Katrina, Tim Thomerson as Brom, and Charles Durning as Doffue Van Tassel, who is also the narrator.
  • "The Tale of the Midnight Ride", a 1994 episode of the Nickelodeon series Are You Afraid of the Dark?, serves as a sequel to the original story. A boy named Ian Matthews moves to Sleepy Hollow, where he develops a crush on a girl named Katie. On Halloween night, they see the ghost of Ichabod Crane and send him over the bridge that the Headless Horseman cannot cross, unintentionally prompting the Horseman to pursue them instead of Crane.
  • In the 1997 Wishbone episode "Halloween Hound: The Legend of Creepy Collars", Wishbone imagines himself as Ichabod Crane and reenacts the story in his imagination when his owner goes on a Halloween night scavenger hunt with two schoolmates, but is scared off by the Headless Horseman.
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1999), a Canadian-American television film directed by Pierre Gang and starring Brent Carver and Rachelle Lefevre.
  • Sleepy Hollow (1999), a feature film adaption directed by Tim Burton which 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 is used as a weapon against the local landowners.
  • The Night of the Headless Horseman (1999), an hour-long computer-animated special using motion capture.
  • Sleepy Hollow High (2000), a direct-to-video horror film shot in Maryland, in which a group of misbehaving high school students are sent to the Sleepy Hollow Park Grounds to clean up vandalism and graffiti. They soon realize that someone is taking the original legend too far.
  • The Hollow (2004), an ABC Family television film starring Kevin Zegers and Kaley Cuoco, and focusing on a teenage descendant of Ichabod Crane.
  • "The Legend of Sleepy Halliwell" (2004), an episode of the TV show Charmed, in which a headless horseman murders the teachers at Magic School by beheading them.
  • Sleepy Hollow (2013), a crime/horror series in which Ichabod Crane is reimagined as an English professor and turncoat during the Revolutionary War, who awakens in the 21st century and encounters the Headless Horseman, a felled mercenary whom Crane had decapitated 250 years prior. Crane teams up with Abbie Mills, a lieutenant in the Sleepy Hollow sheriff's department, and together they try to stop the murderous Horseman and uncover a conspiracy involving supernatural forces. The show ran for four seasons.[12]


  • In Sleepy Hollow (1913), a piano suite by Eastwood Lane
  • Sleepy Hollow (1948), a Broadway musical, with music by George Lessner and book and lyrics by Russell Maloney and Miriam Battista. It lasted 12 performances.[13]
  •  »The Headless Horseman » ( 2001) by Michael Jeffrey Shapiro, for baritone, itinerant string band, and orchestra
  • Sleepy Hollow (2009), a musical with book and lyrics by Jim Christian and music by Tom Edward Clark. It premiered at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah on October 30, 2009.[14][15] It received the 2009 Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival Musical Theatre Award.[16]
  • Undead Ahead 2: Tale of the Midnight Ride (2019), by Motionless in White


Geographic impactEdit

U.S. postage stamp of Legend of Sleepy Hollow, issued October 1974
  • Annually since 1996, before Halloween, the nonprofit organization Historic Hudson Valley has held "Legend Weekend", an event at the Philipsburg Manor House in Sleepy Hollow.
  • In 1997, the village of North Tarrytown, New York (as the village had been called since the late 19th century), where many events of the story took place, officially changed its name to Sleepy Hollow. Its high school teams are named "the Horsemen".
  • In 2006, a large sculpture depicting the Headless Horseman chasing Ichabod Crane was placed along Route 9 in Sleepy Hollow/Tarrytown, New York.

Place namesEdit

Mural on a water tower in Sleepy Hollow, Wyoming based on "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"
  • 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.
    • Sleepy Hollow, Marin County, California, has Irving Drive, Legend Road, Ichabod Court, Katrina Lane, Van Tassel Court, Baltus Lane, Crane Drive, and Van Winkle Drive.
    • Sleepy Hollow, Wyoming, has street names such as Pumpkin Court, Gunpowder Street, Ichabod Avenue, and Raven Street. Hosts an annual event called Sleepy Hollow Days. [18]
  • Subdivision names:
  • State Parks:
  • Schools:
    • 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.
    • The Ichabod Crane Schoolhouse, Kinderhook, New York .
    • Sleepy Hollow Elementary
  • Orinda, California, has Washington Lane, Sleepy Hollow Lane, Tarry Lane, Van Ripper Lane, Van Tassel Lane, Tappan Lane, and Crane Court.
  • Pinson, Alabama's Sleepy Hollow Subdivision has Sleepy Hollow Drive
  • Walt Disney World's Sleepy Hollow quick service restaurant in Magic Kingdom theme park.
  • Rest Stop:

On the Far North Coast of New South Wales lies the Sleepy Hollow rest stop. There is a stop located either side of the road so that North- and South-bound traffic is able to stop. The northbound stop is located 58 km north of Ballina and the southbound stop is located 32 km south of Tweed Heads.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Burstein, Andrew. "The Politics of Sleepy Hollow". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 October 2017.
  2. ^ Haughton, Brian (2012). Famous Ghost Stories: Legends and Lore.
  3. ^ "Musäus Folktale". Retrieved 2014-02-18.
  4. ^ Ward, Harry M. The War of Independence and the Transformation of American Society. ISBN 185728657X.
  5. ^ Kruk, Jonathan. Legends and Lore of Sleepy Hollow & the Hudson Valley. ISBN 1596297980.
  6. ^ 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. 3. New York: G.P. Putnam and Son. 1869. pp. 185–186.
  7. ^ Great, great, great, niece of Katrina Van Tassel, who was my grandfather Melvin Van Tassel's great aunt.
  8. ^ Burstein, Andrew (2007). The Original Knickerbocker: The Life of Washington Irving. New York: Basic Books. p. 143. ISBN 978-0-465-00853-7.
  9. ^ Puertas, Manuel Herrero (2012). "Pioneers for the Mind: Embodiment, Disability, and the De-hallucination of American Empire". Atlantis. 34.1.
  10. ^ Martin, Terence (1953). "Rip, Ichabod, and the American Imagination". American Literature. 31.2.
  11. ^ "Charles Sellier, creator of 'Grizzly Adams,' dies at 67". Variety. February 3, 2011. Retrieved February 2, 2011.
  12. ^ Genzlinger, Neil (September 15, 2013). "An Ichabod Crane With Backbone (but Can He Use an iPad?)". The New York Times. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  13. ^ "Sleepy Hollow (1948)". Internet Broadway Database.
  14. ^ "Sleepy Hollow Legend Lives on at Regional Competition". 28 December 2009. Retrieved November 28, 2010.
  15. ^ Hansen, Erica (October 25, 2009). "WSU creates musical of 'Sleepy Hollow' tale". Deseret News. Retrieved November 28, 2010.
  16. ^ "The Michael Kanin Playwriting Awards for Festival Year 2009". March 10, 2010. Retrieved November 28, 2010.
  17. ^ "The Definitive American Novels Radio Log". Retrieved February 18, 2014.
  18. ^ Gillette News Record staff (2005-08-28). "Gillette residents identify with their subdivisions". Gillette News Record. Gillette, Wyoming. Retrieved 2018-10-29.

Further readingEdit

  • Thomas S. Wermuth (2001). Rip Van Winkle's Neighbors: The Transformation of Rural Society in the Hudson River Valley. State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-5084-8.

External linksEdit