The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

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"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"
Short story by Washington Irving
Ichabod Crane pursued by the Headless Horseman, by F.O.C. Darley, 1849
Text available at Wikisource
CountryUnited States
Genre(s)Children's Book Gothic horror
Published inThe Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.
Media typeHardback, paperback and online
Publication date1820
SeriesThe Sketch Book
The Angler

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is an 1820 short story by American author Washington Irving, contained in his collection of 34 essays and short stories titled The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. Irving wrote the story while living in Birmingham, England.

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]

It has been adapted for the screen several times, including a 1922 silent film and, in 1949, a Walt Disney animation as one of two segments in the package film The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.


The text of the story purports to have been discovered "among the papers of the late Diedrich Knickerbocker." The titular "legend" is set in 1790 in the countryside near the former Dutch settlement of Tarry Town, in a secluded glen known as Sleepy Hollow. It relates the tale of Ichabod Crane, a lean, lanky, superstitious schoolmaster from Connecticut, who receives room and board from the residents of Sleepy Hollow in exchange for educating their children. Ichabod intends to woo Katrina Van Tassel, the daughter of a wealthy farmer, in order to procure her family's riches for himself. He competes for her affection with Abraham "Brom Bones" Van Brunt, the town rowdy. Unable to goad Ichabod into fighting for Katrina's hand, Brom instead wages a campaign of harassment against the schoolmaster, plaguing him with a series of pranks and practical jokes.

One autumn night, Ichabod is invited to attend a harvest party at the Van Tassel homestead. He dances, partakes in the feast, and listens to ghost stories told by other partygoers. In particular, Brom tells the story of how he once raced against the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow, the notorious ghost of a Hessian trooper decapitated by a cannonball during the Revolutionary War. The Horseman is supposedly buried in a churchyard in Sleepy Hollow and rises from his grave every night to search for his missing head, but is supernaturally barred from crossing a wooden bridge that spans a nearby stream.

Ichabod propositions Katrina, but she rejects his advances. He leaves the party heartbroken and rides home on a temperamental plow horse named Gunpowder. It is the witching hour, and with his mind preoccupied by the ghost stories he heard earlier that evening, Ichabod sees ghouls and goblins at every turn. He encounters a cloaked rider upon a black horse, and - on spotting the rider carrying his own head atop his saddle - recognizes him as the Headless Horseman. Ichabod rides for his life, desperately spurring Gunpowder down the Hollow. The Horseman gives chase and pursues Ichabod all the way to the wooden bridge, where he suddenly rears back and throws his severed head, knocking Ichabod off his horse.

The next morning, Gunpowder is found grazing at his master's gate. No trace of Ichabod is found except for his discarded hat and the remains of a shattered pumpkin. With his romantic rival missing and presumed dead, Brom marries Katrina. While the true nature of the "Headless Horseman" is ultimately left open to interpretation, it is implied to have been Brom all along, playing yet another malicious prank on Ichabod by disguising himself as the Horseman and using a jack-o-lantern as a false head; Brom is said to "look exceedingly knowing" whenever the story of Ichabod's disappearance is told, and always laughs heartily at the mention of the broken pumpkin.

Years later, a local farmer returns from a visit to New York and reports that Ichabod is alive and well. Humiliated by Katrina's rejection and frightened by his encounter with the Headless Horseman, Ichabod fled Sleepy Hollow, moved to "a distant part of the country," studied law, entered politics, and eventually became a judge. However, the old Dutch wives - "who are the best judges of these matters" - still insist that Ichabod was "spirited away" by the Headless Horseman. After Ichabod's disappearance, his students are sent to another school. The deserted schoolhouse where he once taught is left abandoned, and is rumored to be haunted by Ichabod's spirit; it is said that, on quiet summer evenings, his voice can often be heard "at a distance, chanting a melancholy psalm tune among the tranquil solitudes of Sleepy Hollow."

In a postscript, omitted from some editions of the story, Knickerbocker describes how he first heard the tale shared by a storyteller at a public meeting in New York. When one of the men in attendance remarks that he has doubts about certain aspects of the legend, the storyteller replies, "Faith, sir, as to that matter, I don't believe one half of it myself."


The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane (1858) by John Quidor

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".[2] 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 Europe storytelling, featuring in German, Irish (e.g., Dullahan), Scandinavian (e.g., the Wild Hunt), and British legends, and were included in Robert Burns's Scots 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 spectres found their victims in proud, scheming persons and characters with hubris and arrogance.[3] One particularly influential rendition of this folktale was the last of the "Legenden von Rübezahl" ('Legends of Rübezahl') from J. K. A. Musäus's literary retellings of German folktales Volksmärchen der Deutschen (1783).[4]

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.[5] The Headless Horseman may have indeed been based loosely on the discovery of such a 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.[6]

According to another hypothesis, the figure of the "headless rider" Irving could have been drawn from German literature, and more precisely from the Chronicle of Szprotawa by J.G. Kreis written in the first half of the 19th century. In the 19th century, the police counselor Kreis noted that in the previous century, the inhabitants of this city were afraid to move after dusk on Hospitalstrasse (now Sądowa Street) due to the headless rider apparition seen there.[7] In support of the hypothesis, according to information taken from the work by Z.Sinko entitled Polish Reception of Washington Irving's Work: Between Enlightenment and Romanticism from 1988, Walter Scott encouraged Irving to learn German to be able to read stories, ballads, and legends in their native language.[8]

Irving, while he was an aide-de-camp to New York Governor 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 after Jesse Merwin, who taught at the local schoolhouse in Kinderhook, further north along the Hudson River, where Irving spent several months in 1809.[9] Alternatively, it is claimed by many in Tarrytown that Samuel Youngs is the original from whom Irving drew his character.[10] Author Gary Deniss asserts that while Crane is loosely based on Merwin, it may include elements from Youngs's life.[11]

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

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.[12] 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 19th century.[13]



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


  • Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow [1] by Christina Henry, a fictional horror novel published in 2021. It takes place in Sleepy Hollow several decades after the events of the original story. It is told from the points of view of Ben Van Brunt, the only grandchild of Abraham "Brom Bones" Van Brunt and Katrina Van Tassel.
  • Raven Rock by Nichole Louise, a historical fiction novel published in 2023. A prequel to The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and a Headless Horseman origin story set during the American Revolution.




  • 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.[17]
  • 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.[18][19] It received the 2009 Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival Musical Theatre Award.[20]
  • The Hollow (2011), a musical by Matt Conner and Hunter Foster.[21] It premiered at the Signature Theatre Company in Arlington, Virginia.
  • Sleepy Hollow - A Legendary Musical (2017), a musical by Michelle Ackerman.[22]
  • Tarrytown (2018), a musical by Adam Wachter. Its world premiere production at Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company won the 2018 San Diego Theatre Critics' Circle Craig Noel Award for "Best New Musical."[23] A studio cast recording starring Jeremy Jordan, Krysta Rodriguez, and Andy Mientus was released in 2020 to benefit The Actors Fund's COVID-19 relief efforts.[24]
  • Ichabod: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (2022), a new production combining Conner's 2011 score with a new book by Stephen Gregory Smith that stays truer to Irving's story.[25]



  • The 2022 graphic novel Hollow is based on the story.

Theme Parks[edit]

  • The Legend roller coaster at Holiday World in Santa Claus Indiana is based on the frightful ride of Ichabod Crane running from the Headless Horseman.

Geographic impact[edit]

Sleepy Hollow, New York, as the setting for the story, contains many of the referenced locations, including ones that can still be visited today. Sleepy Hollow, Illinois, Sleepy Hollow, Marin County, California, and Sleepy Hollow, Wyoming, have street names which reference the story. The latter hosts an annual event called Sleepy Hollow Days.[36] There is also a Sleepy Hollow State Park in Laingsburg, Michigan. The original schoolhouse in Kinderhook, New York is now owned by the Columbia County Historical Society and called the Ichabod Crane Schoolhouse.[37] The area's modern-day school district, Ichabod Crane Central School District, is also named for the character.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Burstein, Andrew (October 30, 2005). "The Politics of Sleepy Hollow". The New York Times. Retrieved October 27, 2017.
  2. ^ Burstein, Andrew (2007). The Original Knickerbocker: The Life of Washington Irving. New York: Basic Books. p. 143. ISBN 978-0-465-00853-7.
  3. ^ Haughton, Brian (2012). Famous Ghost Stories: Legends and Lore.
  4. ^ Hoffman, Daniel (1961). Form and Fable in American Fiction. University of Virginia Press. p. 85 (footnote). ISBN 9780813915258.
  5. ^ Ward, Harry M. (1999). The War of Independence and the Transformation of American Society. Psychology Press. ISBN 185728657X.
  6. ^ Kruk, Jonathan (2011). Legends, and Lore of Sleepy Hollow & the Hudson Valley. History Press. ISBN 978-1596297982.
  7. ^ Boryna, Maciej. "Nawiedzona ulica w Szprotawie". Zwiedzamy Szprotawę. Retrieved April 16, 2021.
  8. ^ Sinko, Zofia (1988). Polska recepcja twórczości Washingtona Irvinga: między Oświeceniem a romantyzmem. Pamiętnik literacki 79/4.
  9. ^ 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. Vol. 3. New York: G.P. Putnam and Son. 1869. pp. 185–186.
  10. ^ "In Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Monument in Memory of Soldiers of the Revolution". The New York Times. New York. October 14, 1894. p. 17. Retrieved February 20, 2009.
  11. ^ Denis, Gary (2015). Sleepy Hollow: Birth of the Legend. Charleston, SC. ISBN 978-1-5116-4546-1.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  12. ^ Puertas, Manuel Herrero (2012). "Pioneers for the Mind: Embodiment, Disability, and the De-hallucination of American Empire". Atlantis. 34 (1).
  13. ^ Martin, Terence (1953). "Rip, Ichabod, and the American Imagination". American Literature. 31 (2).
  14. ^ "Charles Sellier, creator of 'Grizzly Adams,' dies at 67". Variety. February 3, 2011. Retrieved February 2, 2011.
  15. ^ Genzlinger, Neil (September 15, 2013). "An Ichabod Crane With Backbone (but Can He Use an iPad?)". The New York Times. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  16. ^ Headless: A Sleepy Hollow Story (Comedy), Sean Persaud, Sinead Persaud, Gabe Greenspan, Shipwrecked Comedy, August 29, 2022, retrieved September 11, 2023{{citation}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  17. ^ "Sleepy Hollow (1948)". Internet Broadway Database.
  18. ^ "Sleepy Hollow Legend Lives on at Regional Competition". December 28, 2009. Retrieved November 28, 2010.
  19. ^ Hansen, Erica (October 25, 2009). "WSU creates musical of 'Sleepy Hollow' tale". Deseret News. Retrieved November 28, 2010.
  20. ^ "The Michael Kanin Playwriting Awards for Festival Year 2009". March 10, 2010. Retrieved November 28, 2010.
  21. ^ Jones, Kenneth (August 31, 2011). "PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Hunter Foster, Librettist of The Hollow". Playbill. Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  22. ^ "Sleepy Hollow - A Legendary Musical". Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  23. ^ "Tarrytown". Adam Wachter. Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  24. ^ "Jeremy Jordan leads cast of musical loosely based on Sleepy Hollow story – listen to it now | WhatsOnStage". May 11, 2020. Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  25. ^ "'Ichabod: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,' a new musical of love and lore, premieres at Creative Cauldron". October 14, 2022.
  26. ^ " -- The Railroad hour, radio program [sound recording]". Retrieved September 5, 2023.
  27. ^ "The Definitive American Novels Radio Log". Archived from the original on October 17, 2013. Retrieved February 18, 2014.
  28. ^ "Walt Disney's "Ichabod" or "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" on Records |". Retrieved September 5, 2023.
  29. ^ "Historic Hudson Valley". May 24, 2022. Retrieved June 29, 2022.
  30. ^ "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow".
  31. ^ "BBC Radio 4 Extra - the Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving".
  32. ^ "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Audible Audio Edition): Washington Irving, Tom Mison, Audible Studios: Books".
  33. ^ "Sleepy Hollow". March 29, 2018.
  34. ^ "The Official Adventures in Odyssey Podcast".
  35. ^ "About | Shadows At The Door". Retrieved September 5, 2023.
  36. ^ Gillette News Record staff (August 28, 2005). "Gillette residents identify with their subdivisions". Gillette News Record. Gillette, Wyoming. Retrieved October 29, 2018.
  37. ^ "Ichabod Crane Schoolhouse". Columbia County Historical Society. Retrieved September 27, 2022.

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.

External links[edit]