By Judy Berman
A narrow creek glides thru a quiet, secluded glen that is nestled in a little valley among high hills.
The gurgling brook could lull you to sleep as you wait for a fish to bite. A walk in the woods in the fall as the sun glints among the trees is calming. Autumn leaves litter the forest floor.
By nightfall, that same setting is menacing.
Each innocent sight and sound becomes more ominous. This is what a very superstitious Ichabod Crane encounters in Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
One day, Ichabod, a lean and lanky bookish fellow, wanders into the village of Tarrytown (now known as Sleepy Hollow, New York). Single ladies there consider the new schoolmaster to be quite a catch.
But he longs for the lovely Katrina Van Tassel, the only child of a Dutch farmer.
Ichabod’s attracted to Katrina’s beauty and to the wealth she would inherit when her father, Baltus Van Tassel, dies. Ichabod is consumed by daydreams of overseeing the spacious farmhouse on the “green, fertile banks of the Hudson River.”
Katrina doesn’t lack for suitors. Ichabod’s main rival was Brom Van Brunt, known as Brom Bones. Brom also was courting the very flirtatious Katrina.
One day, a messenger rode up to the schoolhouse and announced that Ichabod was invited to a quilting party that evening at the Van Tassel home.
Ichabod borrowed a broken-down plow horse from Hans Van Ripper, an ill-tempered farmer that he was staying with. The steed, Gunpowder, must have inherited his owner’s very nasty disposition.
At the Van Tassels, Ichabod was delighted to see a mountain of food on the tea table. He danced the whole night with Katrina while Brom Bones brooded and fumed.
When the dance ended, Ichabod joined Baltus and other men on the porch.
They swapped stories about goblins and ghosts. Brom Bones claimed he had a run-in with the Headless Horseman, the main spirit that haunts their region.
“Some people say it is the ghost of a Hessian soldier, whose head was carried away by a cannonball during a battle of the Revolutionary War.”
Locals believe his body is buried in the graveyard of the old Dutch church. At night, they say, his ghost continues to ride in search of his head.
Ichabod was the last to leave the party late that night. It’s believed he proposed to Katrina, and left with a heavy heart when she turned him down
His overactive imagination kicks in as he rides through the dark woods to get home.
As he approached the scene where many of the ghost stories had been set, he began to whistle nervously.
Huge, gnarled limbs appeared to be outstretched human arms. To his relief, Ichabod discovered that it was only a large tree.
Suddenly, there was a groan. Ichabod’s “teeth chattered and his knees knocked furiously against the saddle. Again, it turned out to be another innocent sound: one branch rubbing against another in the breeze.”
He was about to cross the stream when Gunpowder stubbornly refused to move. Ichabod panicked. He dug his heels into the horse and whipped him.
Then, he heard a splash. When Ichabod looked up, he saw a towering black shadow ready to spring on him.
Twice, Ichabod stammered “who are you?” But he got no reply. Soon the race was on between Ichabod and the terrifying figure that appeared to be carrying his head in front of him.
Both headed for the church bridge. Gunpowder’s saddle came undone and Ichabod clung to the horse. He heard the goblin’s black horse trample the saddle.
The old horse made it to the bridge and thundered across on the opposite side. But the Headless Horseman did not vanish as the legend said it would, and threw its head (a pumpkin) at Ichabod.
The next morning, Gunpowder was found nibbling the grass outside Van Ripper’s gate. Ichabod didn’t show up at the school house. A search party found no trace of Ichabod – only of the saddle, Ichabod’s hat and a shattered pumpkin.
Shortly after Ichabod’s disappearance, Brom Bones wed the lovely Katrina. When anyone mentioned the pumpkin, Brom burst out in a hearty laugh, leaving some to believe that he knew more than he chose to tell.
Some say that Ichabod fled the area in terror and moved to a new community, where he settled down and got married.
Others insist that he was spirited away by supernatural means. They claim they’ve heard him singing a melancholy tune as they take an evening stroll thru Sleepy Hollow.
Ichabod’s spirit – and that of the Headless Horseman – live on in Sleepy Hollow.
The historic community has hayrides and other events for little ghouls and goblins, and an opportunity to hear about the author, Washington Irving, in “the legend behind the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” http://visitsleepyhollow.com/
What’s your favorite non-gory ghost tale?
COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Video: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow – a short story by Washington Irving (1820) – narrated by Glenn Close https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmImfSZ6Nl8
Main Photo: Spooky (Ghost Light) – taken 2004 by Popperipopp http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e2/Ghost_light.JPG/640px-Ghost_light.JPG
Photo: Sleepy Hollow – Cemetery Bridge – used with permission from photographer Jim Logan http://visitsleepyhollow.com/legend-landmarks/
Photo Reproduction of artist John Quidor’s “The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane” (1801-1881) http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/4c/The_Headless_Horseman_Pursuing_Ichabod_Crane.jpg/640px-The_Headless_Horseman_Pursuing_Ichabod_Crane.jpg
Quotes are from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” – a Treasury of Illustrated Classics adaptation.