The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

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"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"
Ichabods chase crop.jpg
"Ichabod Crane pursued by the Headless Horseman",
by F. O. C. Darley, 1849
Author Washington Irving
Country United States
Language English
Series The Sketch Book
Genre(s) short story
Speculative fiction
Published in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.
Media type Hardback & Paperback
Publication date 1820
Preceded by "The Angler"
Followed by "L'Envoy"
The short story read by Chip from the LibriVox project.

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"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 the name of Sleepy Hollow ... A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere.

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. 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. 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, exacting 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 decapitated 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. In reality, Crane returned to Connecticut without his horse after the headless horseman frightened him away.


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.[1] 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.[2]

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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6][7][8]

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, which Irving issued using the pseudonym "Geoffrey Crayon" in 1820.[9] Alongside "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.[10] 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 a homogeneous community permeate both stories and helped to develop a unique sense of American cultural and existential selfhood during the early nineteenth century.[11]

"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).

Film and television variations[edit]

Will Rogers in The Headless Horseman (1922)

Notable film and television variations include:

  • The Headless Horseman (1922), was a silent version 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), directed by James Algar, Clyde Geronimi and Jack Kinney, was produced by Walt Disney Productions and narrated by Bing Crosby. It is an animated cartoon adaptation of the story, paired with a similar treatment of Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows. The climactic ride is more extended than in the original story, and the possibility is stressed that the visually impressive Horseman is in fact a ghost rather than a human in disguise. Later the Sleepy Hollow portion of the film was separated from the companion film, and shown separately as The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in 1958.
  • The Scooby-Doo Show aired "The Headless Horseman of Halloween" in 1976.
  • A short animated version produced in 1972 was narrated by John Carradine and was shown in theaters a year later with Charlotte's Web.
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1980), was a television film directed by Henning Schellerup. It aired on NBC, was filmed in Utah, and starred Jeff Goldblum as Ichabod Crane, Meg Foster as Katrina, and Dick Butkus as Brahm Bones. Executive producer Charles Sellier was nominated for an Emmy Award for his work on the movie.[12] The film is not closely adapted from the original story, depicting Crane as a skeptic regarding ghosts and the supernatural, although it foreshadows Tim Burton's similar 1999 treatment.
  • "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (1985), an episode of Shelley Duvall's Tall Tales and Legends, starred Ed Begley, Jr. as Ichabod Crane, Beverly D'Angelo as Katrina Van Tassel, Tim Thomerson as Brom and Charles Durning as Doffue Van Tassel, who is also the narrator. It was produced and hosted by Shelley Duvall.
  • 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 television series Are You Afraid of the Dark? (1992), the episode "The Tale of the Midnight Ride" serves as a sequel to the classic story. In this episode a boy moves to Sleepy Hollow where he develops a crush on a girl. 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, prompting the Headless Horseman to come after them instead.
  • "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.
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1999), was a Canadian television film starring Brent Carver and Rachelle Lefevre. It was filmed in Montreal.
  • 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.
  • The Night of the Headless Horseman (1999), was an hour long computer animated FOX TV special utilizing motion capture.
  • The Haunted Pumpkin of Sleepy Hollow (2002), was an hour long animated special from PorchLight Entertainment.
  • The Hollow (2004), was a TV movie that premiered on the ABC Family Channel, starring Kevin Zegers and Kaley Cuoco. The adaptation focused on a teenage descendant of Ichabod Crane.
  • "The Legend of Sleepy Halliwell" (2004), was an episode of the TV show Charmed. A headless horseman murders the teachers at Magic School by beheading them.
  • Sleepy Hollow (2013), a fantasy mystery drama 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 Lieutenant Abbie Mills, a local sheriff in the town of Sleepy Hollow, and together they try to stop the murderous Horseman (who is purportedly Death), and uncover a conspiracy involving supernatural forces.[13]

Stage and music adaptations[edit]

  • 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.[14]
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow[15] (1989), a one-act stage adaptation by Kathryn Schultz Miller.[16]
  • 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 in Concert[17] (2004), part musical theater, radio drama, and festival, an annual production with music by Steven J. Smith, Jr. and lyrics by Jensen Oler and Smith; it premiered in Lehi, Utah at Olympic Park on October 8, 2004.[18]
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (2009), an opera, with music and libretto by Robert Milne; available for production through Arts Ascending, Inc.[19]
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (2009), an opera, with music by William Withem and libretto by Melanie Helton; it premiered March 27, 2009, in the Concert Auditorium at Michigan State University.[20]
  • 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.[21][22] It received the 2009 Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival Musical Theatre Award.[23]
  • The Hollow (2011). Book by Hunter Foster, music & lyrics by Matt Conner, directed by Matt Gardiner; premiered at Signature Theatre in Washington, DC (Eric Schaeffer, Artistic Director).[24]

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow adapted by Darkstuff Productions at the Bierkeller Theatre Bristol, England Christmas 2012.[25]

Audio books[edit]

  • Ed Begley was the narrator for a recording on both LP and audio cassette by Caedmon Records (ISBN 978-9995389598).
  • Boris Karloff narrated a version of the story on a 1977 LP (Mr. Pickwick Records, Pickwick SPC 5156) with original songs and sound effects.
  • Ronald Colman was the host and narrator for a radio adaptation on NBC's Favorite Story on July 2, 1946 (requested by Walter Huston as that actor's favorite story).
  • An adaptation was broadcast on September 19, 1947 on NBC University of the Air: American Novels.[26]
  • Martin Donegan was the narrator for a recording on CMS Records.
  • George Guidall was the narrator for a 1999 unabridged recording on CD for Recorded Books (ISBN 978-1-4025-5119-2).
  • Sleepy Hollow (1998). 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.
  • BBC Radio 7 (and later BBC Radio 4 Extra) has repeatedly broadcast a three-part reading of the story with Martin Jarvis as the Narrator.
  • Historic Hudson Valley[27] 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."[28]
  • "Ichabod Crane, Master of the Occult"[29] (2012) is a sequel to the original story, written by D. K. Thompson and produced by Marshal Latham on the Journey Into podcast.

Local impact[edit]

  • 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.
  • A not-for-profit organization Historic Hudson Valley[30] has held since 1996 Legend Weekend at Philipsburg Manor, Sleepy Hollow, New York, 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.
    • Sleepy Hollow, San Anselmo, California has Irving Dr., Legend Rd., Ichabod Ct., Katrina Ln., Van Tassel Ct., Baltus Ln, Crane Dr. and Van Winkle Dr.
  • 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.

Sleepy Hollow Elementary, Orinda, California Has Washington Ln., Sleepy Hollow Ln., Tarry Ln., Van Ripper Ln., Van Tassel Ln., Tappan Ln., Crane Ct.,

See also[edit]

  • Sleepy Hollow Cemetery was founded in 1849, and is adjacent to the Old Dutch Burying Ground. They are separately owned and administered.


  1. ^ "Musäus Folktale". Retrieved 2014-02-18. 
  2. ^ Brian Haughton, Famous Ghost Stories: Legends and Lore. (2012)
  3. ^ Harry M. Ward, The War of Independence and the Transformation of American Society, ISBN 185728657X
  4. ^ Jonathan Kruk, Legends and Lore of Sleepy Hollow & the Hudson Valley, ISBN 1596297980
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ "Catriena Ecker Van Tessel (1736–1793) – Find A Grave Memorial". 2005-01-10. Retrieved February 18, 2014. 
  7. ^ "Eleanor Van Tassel Brush (1763–1861) – Find A Grave Memorial". Retrieved February 18, 2014. 
  8. ^ "Van Tassel Family History Homepage – Old Families of Westchester – Van Tassel". September 10, 1951. Retrieved February 18, 2014. 
  9. ^ Burstein, Andrew. The Original Knickerbocker: The Life of Washington Irving. New York: Basic Books, 2007: 143. ISBN 978-0-465-00853-7
  10. ^ Manuel Herrero Puertas, "Pioneers for the Mind: Embodiment, Disability, and the De-hallucination of American Empire." Atlantis. 34.1 (2012)
  11. ^ Terence Martin, "Rip, Ichabod, and the American Imagination." American Literature. 31.2 (1953)
  12. ^ "Charles Sellier, creator of 'Grizzly Adams,' dies at 67". Variety Magazine. February 3, 2011. Retrieved February 2, 2011. 
  13. ^ Genzlinger, Neil (September 15, 2013). "An Ichabod Crane With Backbone (but Can He Use an iPad?)". The New York Times. Retrieved September 18, 2013. 
  14. ^ Internet Broadway Database.
  15. ^ "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow – Washington Irving – Google Boeken". Retrieved February 18, 2014. 
  16. ^ "Legend of Sleepy Hollow One Act Play for Schools and Theatres!". Retrieved November 28, 2010. 
  17. ^ "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow". Stories in Concert. Retrieved February 18, 2014. 
  18. ^ "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in Concert: Production History". Retrieved August 11, 2012. 
  19. ^ "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the opera". Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  20. ^ The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: An MSU Opera – YouTube. March 26, 2009. Retrieved November 21, 2011. 
  21. ^ "Sleepy Hollow Legend Lives on at Regional Competition". 28 December 2009. Retrieved November 28, 2010. 
  22. ^ Hansen, Erica (October 25, 2009). "WSU creates musical of 'Sleepy Hollow' tale". Deseret News. Retrieved November 28, 2010. 
  23. ^ "The Michael Kanin Playwriting Awards for Festival Year 2009". March 10, 2010. Retrieved November 28, 2010. 
  24. ^ "". Retrieved February 18, 2014. 
  25. ^ "Darkstuff Productions". Darkstuff Productions. Retrieved February 18, 2014. 
  26. ^ "The Definitive American Novels Radio Log". Retrieved February 18, 2014. 
  27. ^ "". Retrieved February 18, 2014. 
  28. ^ "Parents Choice". 
  29. ^ Into, Journey (November 11, 2012). "Journey Into...: Journey #50 – Ichabod Crane, Master of the Occult by D.K. Thompson". Retrieved February 18, 2014. 
  30. ^ "Historic Hudson Valley homepage". Retrieved November 28, 2010. 

Further reading[edit]

  • 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.
  • W. Scott Poole (2011). Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting. Baylor University Press. ISBN 978-1-60258-314-6.

External links[edit]