The Legend of Sleepy Hollow


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.

Sleepy Hollow cemetery-bridge

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.

Sleepy Hollow - The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane

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.”

Happy Halloween!

What’s your favorite non-gory ghost tale?


COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. 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,, 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 

Main Photo: Spooky (Ghost Light) – taken 2004 by Popperipopp

Photo: Sleepy Hollow – Cemetery Bridge – used with permission from photographer Jim Logan

Photo Reproduction of artist John Quidor’s “The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane” (1801-1881)

Quotes are from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” – a Treasury of Illustrated Classics adaptation.

  1. Excellent retelling, Judy. Happy Halloween to you and Dave.

    Are people as into the day down there in Florida? The column I’m planning for my community blog this Wednesday is about how even adults up here are ga-ga about Halloween.

    1. Thank you, Mark. Happy Halloween to you and Karen.

      We have a neighbor who goes full tilt for this holiday including the fake headstones, skeletons, fog-like mists, etc. There is a lot of door-to-door trick or treating, but I remember getting far more little ghosts and goblins when we lived in Liverpool. Maybe, it’s just the area we live in. I know my friends’ children and a few big kids (adults) that party and celebrate the day big time. 😉

      1. Definitely. If you want me to expand I will. We also played a favorite album. You can google it under “Have you seen my baby?” It’s a ‘scary’ story about a guy inheriting a haunted mansion in the deep South. A real hoot.

      2. Please expand. Send me an email if you could be so kind, including a reminder for me where you grew up and double-day-dipped on the trick-or-treating. I will google, too. Thanks, Judy.

    1. Kate … I enjoy the little munchkins who come trick or treating at our door. But we’ve also had some fun. One year, a few years before he married our eldest daughter, Keith sat on our front “porch,” wearing a scary mask and a long overcoat. Some kids weren’t sure if he was real and walked by him tentatively. When he’d just reach out, they’d jump … and, sometimes, run. 😉

      1. My girlfriend did crazy things too. She always dressed up like a wicked witch (and she was really good). She had a caldron of steam (dry ice) and popped out at the kids. Every year she would get hundreds of kids come to see her. The odd part is that she was one of the healthy freaks. She gave them pencils. Who uses a pencil these days?

      2. That is crazy – giving out pencils, I mean. 😉 One of our neighbors uses that dry ice effect and it’s pretty neat. His home is a magnet for trick or treaters for miles around, I’m betting.

      3. I think the lesson is that it’s not always the candy that the kids are after. It’s the good time. One year she came (dressed in costume of course) into my place of work and disrupted everyone. I wasn’t sure who it was myself until the end but everyone enjoyed the distraction. Odd thing is that she hates the Thanksgiving-Christmas holidays and often suffers from melancholy during that time.

      4. I think you’re right, Kate. Although the little ones always seem excited when we give them those little bags of candy. Not sure why.

        It’s too bad your friend can’t find a way to celebrate those holidays as well.

  2. You get a gold star for this one, Judy. I like that you told the story (which I needed boning up on) in 2-3 line paragraphs. All the photographs are great but I especially like the “racy” painting by Quidor, which reminds me of the style of Flemish artist Pieter Brueghel for some reason.

    I assume you teach “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” to your students about this time of year. Maybe too they read your blog. You could teach “How to Summarize” with this story and give an art lesson in the bargain. Oh, my goodness, I must quit while I’m ahead–ha!

    1. Thank you for the gold star and the great suggestion, Marian. I don’t teach “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” but I might share this with them. Maybe it will encourage them to read the story. In the past, I’ve had them write their own ghost stories. 😉

      I’m glad that there was a photo reproduction of John Quidor’s painting. It’s an oil on canvass and it appears the original painting is too dark to reproduce well.

  3. i have always loved this story, judy. we love halloween here too, and have a massive parade at school and lots of trick or treaters at home. great fun and i love spooky stories.

    1. Beth … I just saw a terrific animated video on this story and a biographical introduction of the author, Washington Irving, by Walt Disney. The story itself is narrated by Bing Crosby. Yes, I also really enjoy Halloween and spooky stories. It sounds like your school and community has great fun this time of year. 😉

  4. It’s interesting that there are modern stories retelling basically the same events (but, obviously, not the same circumstances) in the form of people in cars being chased by lights or ghost.

    I’ve never been a fan of supernatural stories, even as I’ve written some . . . so, in answer to your question . . . mine.

    1. That’s a good enough reason for me, disperser. Scary stories have probably been with us since the days when cave men and women hunkered down by a fire and tried to make sense of the world. 😉

  5. Boo! Or should I say “Hello, Judy!” I miss Halloween these days. We live so far out in the country that we get zero trick or treaters. So I have no excuse for buying bags of Reese’s peanut butter cups, etc. I thoroughly enjoyed your telling of the Icabod Crane story which, surprisingly, I seem to have completely forgotten.

    1. OK, Barbara, I confess. The real reason I love Halloween is that I buy the candy we like AND we keep the leftovers. I love frozen Snicker bars. 😉 Reese’s peanut butter cups and Yorkshire mints (which I don’t give out) are also excellent frozen. 😉

      I’m glad you liked the story. I was surprised that there was only one copy of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” in our school library (an adaptation for young readers) and only one copy in the adult section at Barnes and Noble.

    1. Amy … When I was a teen, my folks had a home on 66 acres that adjoined state property. One day I walked into the woods and sat on a hill. It was lovely … UNTIL I heard a noise. Then I took off like a frightened rabbit. And this was in the daytime. So I can relate to how scared Ichabod Crane might be going thru the woods late at night with those frightening stories running around in his head. I hear ya’. 😉

  6. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is one of my all-time favorites, Judy, so I loved this retelling on your post.
    We had young neighbor children whose grandmother had told them the legend so often that if you stopped at any point, they would jump in where you left off–almost on the next words–and take over. When their grandmother died suddenly one summer, the children were only 4 and 5. That Halloween they told the story differently: their grandmother was Izzy Crane, and the rest of the tale was her running from a murderous mayor of the village. And the next morning the pumpkin they found wore the mayor’s hat, and he was gone forever.
    We were all amazing how two such young children could create such a detailed, creepy alternate versions.

    1. The children’s version is even more creepy that the original tale. I hope that it helped them sort thru the traumatic loss of their beloved grandmother. You’re right, Marilyn. Children do have an amazing capacity for remembering stories and their ability to tell them is wonderful. 😉 Did they use their story telling skills when they grew up?

  7. Just the name Sleepy Hollow does sound extremely creepy to me, but maybe it’s just a nice woodland with babbling brooks! So was The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (the novel) based on a real place, or a real legend of the past? I didn’t realise it was a book, I’ve only ever seen the film. But I’m just wondering now if the film is related to the original story or not? Sounds like a very good cover story for a murder to me! But maybe that’s where so many of the past legends come from? They conveniently turn into ghost stories and the one who commits the crime slips away! 😉 Could even happen today. You can tell I don’t much believe in ghosts – there’s often a more logical story behind a legend. But, they do make great books and movies! 😀

    1. Sleepy Hollow (former name Tarrytown and before that Greenburgh) is a real community in New York state. Author Washington Irving (1783-1859) wrote this story and “Rip Van Winkle” based on stories he heard growing up in this region. The New York Times has a wonderful article on Irving in today’s paper, I believe. I just reposted it from “Visit Sleepy Hollow’s” Facebook page which shared my story on its page. 😉

      Wikipedia has some information on the origin of this ghost story. A “nice woodland with babbling brooks” can transform from a peaceful place to a creepy, scary one based on my own experiences of traipsing about in the woods next to our home in the country.

      Suzy … It sounds like you’re on to a good yarn about the ghost stories. You don’t need to believe them to write them. 😉

  8. Oooooh! I can’t wait to experience the Glenn Close version! We used to get hundreds of little ones all dressed up at Halloween but since moving to the country 25 years ago there is nary a trick-or-treater to be seen. Like Barbara said, “we are so far out.” No matter. Your story helped me to get in the mood for Halloween.

    1. Glenn Close is a stellar storyteller. I enjoyed her version. But I also love Walt Disney’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” I’m delighted my retelling of this short story got you into the holiday spirit. 😉

  9. Judy as a child I loved and hated this story. It captured my imagination but when it came to the chase I had to hide under my pillow. Thanks for creating such an eerie mood and reminding me what a scaredy cat I was.

    1. My work is done here then, Kath. 😉 I can understand the mixed emotions. My children might have had the same reaction. I know our youngest, Jenn, did with “The Wizard of Oz.” Then, it became her favorite.

      After reading your “The Darkest Corners of My Mind” about a week ago, you’re no slouch either in creating a spooky mood. 😉

    1. That’s really a shame, Carl. If the old English is daunting, there often are adaptations – such as the one I borrowed from our school library. I suspect, though, that some of the stories might be lost in translation. (Barnes and Noble only had one copy of this book in its literature section. None in the children’s section.)

      1. I’m talking about American authors that would need no translation: Mark Twain, James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Jack London, Brett Harte, Edna Ferber….

      2. Carl, that is sad. Mark Twain and Jack London might be the exception as some of their books are still taught in school. But there are many authors’ works that remain unexplored and unloved because people are unaware of the treasures these books contain. Some of the books that are “hot” today are soon replaced by other popular titles. I’m always amazed when I see that some of my favorite authors are no longer on the shelves or are crowded out by current authors.

  10. Really love the story of Sleepy Hollow one of my favorite Halloween Stories, so I really enjoyed reading this, brought back child hood memories of hiding under bed sheets with a flashlight and telling ghost stories with my brothers as a child. 🙂

    1. It’s hard to imagine that this story is nearly 200 years old. It was published in 1820 and it still has the ability to terrify us. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Island Traveler. I hope that you and your family have a wonderful week. 😉

  11. Judy, you made this story your own and I enjoyed its mysterious and spooky details, it came alive in my eyes through the power of your words! I love Halloween and also, fall natural wonders. It is such a wonderful season of light and dark, too.

    1. Thanks, Madhu. It’s hard to believe that this story is nearly 200 years old.

      We had fun handing out treats to the little ghosts, goblins and mini-super heroes on Halloween night.

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