The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Mike Williams 02/11/2016 @ 9:21 A.M.
where wild imaginings run rapidly abound.
A secluded glen called Sleepy Hollow,
with entrancing atmosphere and lazy shallow.
In that drowsy small town distills;
the woodpecker taps, the quail trills.
Slumbering minds into the languid gleam,
the dewy nacht of distant dream.
The hypnotic vapors of superstition thrive,
where legends and stories continually survive.
Entered there in a covetous pedagogue,
a crane like figure named Ichabod.
The itenerant teacher had little worth,
passed among the community to berth.
When his green eyes glassened aspired,
the coquette daughter of the squire.
An unlikely suiter indeed was he,
with appendages dangling out of sleeve.
Narrow, and exceedingly lank, and tall;
gigantic ears, hooked nose above all.
The lovely Katrina had another’s eye,
but Ichabod cunningly continued to try.
He lured with instruction in song,
steadfast in opposition against rowdy Brom.
Spurned was Brom Bones by competition,
he pranked and played upon superstition.
An intimidating strong man was he,
using boorish waggery to thwart rivalry.
Ichabod’s insatiable appetites pressed him on;
the round, red, rosy apple obreption.
To capture and win Katrina’s hand,
and her father Baltus’ wealthy land.
Brom enlisted his rough rider gang,
they harried Ichabod’s hitherto peaceful domain.
The schoolhouse was turned over afright,
and Ichabod began fearing the night.
Dark forces at work Ichabod thought,
grieving over what the supernatural wrought.
Shadows and spooks crept in mind,
and further hauntings persisted over time.
One autumn day a letter came,
the squire invited Ichabod by name.
A party and dance to attend,
another chance with Katrina once again.
Dressed his finest that splendid hour,
borrowing the old Dutchman’s horse Gunpowder.
The school master rode far afield,
toward the matrimonial objective he concealed.
Brom Bones atop his Daredevil steed,
charged the party in thundering speed.
Broad shouldered frame and blackened curl,
to persue his long awaited girl.
The house filled with scrubbed farmers,
their wives, washed sons and daughters.
The tables were topped to treat,
lavished many wonderous things to eat.
Music filled the rooms with cheer,
Ichabod and Katrina danced by candleier.
As time passes on and stories too,
the credulous pedagogue heard something new.
Tales of a headless Hessian Jäger,
burried unmarked by the Pocantio river.
The old stone church still stands,
upon Fredrick Philipse The First’s lands.
He fought in the revolutionary war;
his body found, but nothing more.
Upon the field his shattered head remains,
during the battle of White Plains.
His comrads hastily buried him away,
the old Dutch cemetery he lay.
Each night arises a malevolent apparition,
a headless horseman weilding his falchion.
Just north of the retaining wall,
his head decapitated by a cannonball.
Searching for another to claim evermore,
say the old Dutch descendant’s folklore.
The harvest party takes to end,
Ichabod leaves early, denied, and crestfallen.
Tales of legend swimming his head,
what the farmer’s wives had said.
He wondered aimless the haunted spots,
consumed in anguish of his thoughts.
On that deep placid autumn night,
imagining ghostly noises and horrid fright.
Passing the lightning-stricken tulip tree,
haunted by Major Andre’s spirit purportedly.
A cloaked rider appeared his eyes,
with a head nested between his thighs.
Desperately goading Ichabod his plow horse,
he rode across the bridgened course.
The black rider swiftly in chase,
hurled the head into Ichabod’s face.
Without Ichabod astride; Gunpowder wondered home,
over rock and shrub Ichabod thrown.
Morning came and Ichabod wasn’t found,
and a smashed pumpkin lay aground.
Ichabod’s tricorn remained beside the road,
and the legend was repeatedly told.
Hans his landlord burned his books,
gone the pedagogue’s peculiarly odd looks.
Some say the rider was Brom Bones,
others tell tales that Ichabod roams.
Housewives say he was spirited away,
none know with certainty still today.
Brom and Katrina were soon wed,
and Ichabod presumed lost his head.
So ends the telling of haunting sorrow,
and the legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Notes: This poem was composed for Fran McClelland, a woderful poetess in her own right. It was due to her suggestion that I undertook this work. My poem is based on Washington Irving’s original short story of the same name. I simply conensed it from story form and retold the same general story in poetic form. I owe Fran a great deal of gratitude, not only for her gentle nudge toward creativity, but also for her kind words of encouragement time and again.
‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ is a short story of speculative fiction 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.
Who Was The Headless Horseman?
In the Hudson Valley where ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ took place, along with the many folk tales from the area. Sunnyside, Washington Irving’s homestead, and The Old Dutch Church resised there near the spot in the woods of Haverstraw where Benedict Arnold passed on the plans to West Point to John Andre. These stories are a part the legend, the best legends are based on some truth.
Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is one of the first works of fiction to take hold in American literature. Published in 1820 in Irving’s collection The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. It continues as a beloved short story, especially in the dark days around Halloween.
Although a work of fiction, Irving steeped his story in the Dutch culture and history of early New York and the Hudson Valley. The hero Ichabod Crane and his beloved, Katrina Van Tassel, were based on real people. The landmarks and history that Irving uses as background are almost all true. But what about the Headless Horseman? Where did he come from, and what is his connection to the American Revolution?
Note: The primary sources for this article–besides the tale itself–is Hudson Valley storyteller Jonathan Kruk’s book Legends and Lore of Sleepy Hollow and the Hudson Valley, HudsonValley.org and Gotham, by Burroughs and Wallace. I also used sources from Wikipedia for minor details.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow:
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” deals with the bright, but superstitious (and apparently for good reason) teacher Ichabod Crane, a Yankee from Connecticut that travels to Tarrytown, New York, firmly in Knickerbocker territory. He courts his singing student, eighteen year old Katrina Van Tassel, daughter of wealthy land owner Baltus Van Tassel, but he’s not the only one. Local bravo, brute, and prankster Brom Bones also loves Katrina, and he sets a plan into motion to defeat his rival.
Crane refuses to meet with Bones with fisticuffs, so Brom decides to drive Crane away with the ghost stories of the Hudson Valley. The HV is filled with tales of the supernatural, from Spook Rock (there are several Spook Rocks in the area) to the White Lady to Hulda the Witch, who gave her life in battle. Brom taps all these tales one night at the Van Tassel tavern. He encourages the elders there–veterans of the Revolution–to tell horror stories of their battles. This inevitably moves to ghost stories, and the most famous of the tales, The Hessian that had his head blown off and still rides today. It was the Horseman that bashed Farmer Brouwer’s brains, just after he declared “I am a heretical disbeliver in ghosts!” Brom chimed in that he raced the Horseman, who “vanished in a flash of fire” once he crossed the bridge by the Old Dutch Church graveyard.
The Headless Horseman Chasing Ichabod Crane:
Fear courses through Ichabod, but so did love. Once the tavern had emptied, Crane pledges his love to Katrina, only to be rebuffed. The heartbroken Crane mounts his horse and heads home, though he never made it.
As Crane passes Andre’s Capture Tree, where the ghost of Major John Andre haunts, Crane realizes that he’s being followed by another traveler, one of massive size. Though the rider was cloaked, Crane saw that he was headless. Worse, the horseman’s head rested on his saddle pommel.
Crane spurs his horse into a terrible flight. Every shadow and creak seemed to be a ghost reaching out to drag him to the grave. The horseman gains ground, his horse’s hooves pounding the Albany Post Road (Now Route US-9).
Crane remembers Brom’s tale, and races for the Old Dutch Church. Somehow he makes it there before the horseman. He turns around, expecting to see the flash of fire signaling the horseman’s defeat. Instead, he sees the horseman hurling his severed head. It was the last thing that Ichabod Crane ever saw.
The next day, local children found all that was left of their schoolteacher: his horse, his hat, a love poem to Katrina, and what was either pumpkin mash, or Crane’s brains.
Irving implies that the horseman was actually Brom Bones, but leaves this ambiguous. In the story, some joke that Crane was scared away from Tarrytown and moved to the city, but the elders know better. The headless horseman took Crane to the grave that night.
Where the his schoolhouse once stood, you can still hear the ghostly tune of Ichabod Crane.
The Truth Behind the Legend:
As mentioned above, Irving placed his tale in the real Tarrytown, with real (or disguised people). Irving wrote the story while in England, and his homesickness lead his imagination back home. The Van Tassels were a prominent family in Tarrytown, and many are buried in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, including Catriena Ecker Van Tassel, the namesake of Irving’s Katrina. Elizabeth Van Tassel owned a tavern on Albany Post Road, where the young and wild Irving frequently caroused. Major Andre’s capture tree no longer stands, but there is a monument to where it once was.
As for Ichabod Crane, the name comes from Colonel Ichabod Crane, a career officer that Irving knew. However, Irving notes that his Ichabod was based on a schoolteacher friend.
Where Did The Headless Horseman Come From?
The idea of a headless warrior appears frequently in European stories, the most famous being Gawain and the Green Knight. There are many true instances in the Tarrytown area of soldiers being decapitated by cannon fire in the American Revolution. Any one of these forlorn souls could be the real horseman.
A potential source for the horseman came from Revolutionary War hero, prominent New Yorker, former vice-president, and infamous duelist, Aaron Burr. The Irvings were close with the Burr family, and once Burr told Irving a story from his time serving under General Israel Putnam. In this case, the horseman wasn’t a Hessian at all, but an American, Abraham Onderdonck (about as Knickerbocker a name as you can get). Burr said that he was “killed by a cannonball by the enemy, separating his head from his shoulders.” Certainly, this story could have colored Irving’s story, and the idea of a Knickerbocker ghost chasing a New England Yankee would fit the culture of the times.
Another source would be from old veterans telling war tales of The Battle of White Plains. As Washington retreated from New York in 1776, British, Loyalist, and Hessian troops marched up the East bank of the Hudson to cut Washington off. Just before Halloween, the patriots and Brits clashed at Chatterton’s Hill. The British overwhelmed the patriots and forced them north and across the river, leaving the Lower Hudson Valley a raid-ravaged no-man’s land for the rest of the war.
One of the veterans of the battle, Gen. William Heath, noted in his journal that he witnessed a Hessian artilleryman lose his head on October 31st. What better source for a scary story than that!
Private Joseph Plumb Martin, another veteran of the battle, also recalls ancedotes of severed heads in the mud and headless bodies. Note: read his diary, Private Yankee Doodle. It’s fantastic.
Out of Many (Stories) One:
So while there is no definitive name behind the headless horseman, the fiction was still based in fact. Any one of the lost soldiers in New York campaign of the American Revolution could be the source, but most likely they all are. Still, if the legend was true, there’s no reason why he couldn’t be galloping up the Albany Post Road on any night, or haunting the Old Dutch Church, which still stands today.