Sept/Oct 2004



"A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere... The whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions; stars shoot and meteors glare oftener across the valley than in any other part of the country, and the nightmare, with her whole ninefold, seems to make it the favorite scene of her gambols."

So was the world first introduced to a tiny "sequestered glen" in New York state long ago and far away, impossible far back, some 184 years ago now. It's a real enough place, and indeed back in '89 I tried unsuccessfully to make time for a visit to North Tarry Town, as it was then still known. Since then, it has reverted to the name that has made the region legend: Sleepy Hollow.

Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" was part of a collection that appeared in 1820, and though the tale is based on old German legends, it was set in a region he knew well a region where he lived and died. "Sleepy Hollow" is absolutely Required Reading for the Halloween season, and most of you must be familiar with this wonderfully and occasionally tongue-in-cheek tale of the Headless Horseman, the beautiful Katrina Van Tassel, and the luckless schoolmaster, Ichabod Crane. For those NOT familiar, find the thing, and peruse it some cool October evening. You'll be glad you did.

Naturally, though the locale is real enough, the characters are of course quite fictional.

Or are they?

Well, the Van Tassels were a real family, as it turns out, and indeed Irving eventually purchased the Van Tassel estate. The patriarch was Cornelis Janezan Van Texel, an early Dutch emigre who married a Native American named Catoneras in the early 1600's, as the Dutch were beginning to settle what was then known as "New Netherlands." The family prospered, and played a large Patriot role in the American Revolution.

The character of the schoolmaster was based on a local Revolutionary War veteran named Samuel Youngs, while another local character, Abraham Martling, was immortalized as Brom Bones.

As to the Horseman, he was based on an executed officer named Major Andre, whose ghost reputedly still haunts the region.

But Irving needed one more bit of inspiration and found it in an old friend from his days in the military. This old friend, upon publication of the story, reputedly never spoke to Irving again.

His name?

Colonel Ichabod B. Crane.

Happy Halloween!