The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
by Washington Irving
September 27, 2011 (first published 1820)
In 1820 Washington Irving, America's first short story writer, published "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" a scary little Halloween story in his collection, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," along with another story from the collection, "Rip Van Winkle," is one of the oldest examples of American literature that is still read today. Set in post-Revolutionary America in the hamlet of Sleepy Hollow, near the Dutch-settled village of Tarry Town, New York, the story concerns Ichabod Crane, a tall, gawky, superstitious schoolmaster who is smitten with Katrina Van Tassel, the prettiest girl from the wealthiest family. Vying for her hand in marriage is the brawny Brom Bones.
Ichabod spends his long winter evenings listening to the old wives spin yarns of ghosts and goblins and haunted fields and houses. The whole area is said to be haunted; its dominant ghost is an apparition that rides around "on horseback without a head. It is said to be the ghost of a Hessian trooper, whose head had been carried away by a cannon-ball, in some nameless battle during the revolutionary war." Ichabod's walks home afterwards are filled with terror, as he imagines ghosts in the shadowy shrubs and trees everywhere along his path. One autumn evening the Van Tassels host a party, attended by both Ichabod Crane and Brom Bones. It is after the party on his way home that Ichabod has his most terrifying journey ever when he encounters the headless Hessian.
"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is a wonderful read for a late autumn afternoon. After reading the story, find it on film. Ichabod Crane has been played by a diverse range of actors including Jeff Goldblum, Ed Begley, Jr. and Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp's Ichabod in Tim Burton's 1999 Sleepy Hollow is not a superstitious schoolteacher, but rather a no-nonsense police constable investigating a series of brutal murders in the area. Depp's portrayal of a man having seen the headless horseman is nothing short of brilliant.