The small village of Sleepy Hollow is ready for Halloween. Nestled some 25 miles north of New York City, this quiet community has an entire cemetery that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Guided tours begin Friday, Oct. 11 and run through Saturday, Nov. 30. Some of the tours are during the day and some are after dark. The night tours are conducted by lantern light as the guide leads visitors through the site popularized by Washington Irving’s short story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Written in 1820, the tale takes place within the scenic beauty of the Hudson River Valley in the village of Sleepy Hollow, New York. Ichabod Crane arrives as the new school teacher. The residents are superstitious and tell him a story about a headless horseman. One night, he attends a party in hopes of winning the hand of a young woman from a prominent village family. His efforts are not successful and he leaves the party alone. On his way home, he encounters the headless horseman and is never seen again.
Even though this is a fictional story, the descriptions of the village, the people and the old cemetery are rooted in facts. Sleepy Hollow was settled by the Dutch in the 1600s. The land originally belonged to the Weckquaesgeck Indians. A Dutch colonist published a work in 1655 that referred to the area as Slapershaven or Sleepers’ Haven. That name eventually became Sleepy Hollow.
Irving was well-acquainted with the Hudson River Valley. Even though he was born in New York City and grew up there, he was sent to Tarrytown during the yellow fever outbreak in 1798 and stayed with his friend, James Kirke Paulding. While there, the two young men made several visits to nearby Sleepy Hollow, exploring the countryside, speaking with the locals about Dutch customs and listening to their ghost stories.
Washington Irving went to England in 1815 to work with his brothers in an attempt to save the family’s trading company after the War of 1812. He spent the next 17 years in Europe writing. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was included in a collection of essays and short stories known as The Sketch Book, which he published in 1820 under the pseudonym of Geoffry Crayon. When the author returned to New York in the 1830s, he purchased a cottage in Tarrytown with a view of the Hudson River. He named his home Sunnyside and lived there until he died. Today, it is also part of the National Register of Historic Places.
The Sleepy Hollow Cemetery website lists places in the story that have a real counterpart. For example, the burying ground where Ichabod Crane thought he’d be safe is the yard of the Old Dutch Church. The Albany Post Road in the story is now US Route 9. The wooden bridge, however, was built in the late 1700s and rotted away a long time ago.
Washington Irving is buried in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and his grave is one of the stops on the tour. Advanced reservations are required. The first evening tour is Friday, Oct. 11. For more information, please click on the link below that says Sleepy Hollow Cemetery Tour Schedule. The entire text of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is also printed on the cemetery website.
Written by: Cynthia Collins
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