Our Halloween Tradition: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

sleepy hollow book

A few weeks ago, in a post about our hopes of one day reading to our kids, I mentioned that *A* and I like to wind down our days, especially in the fall and winter, by reading aloud to each other.  We have a favorite stack of books and authors.  In October, especially around Halloween, we read Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

It’s not just any copy of this classic Halloween tale – I found a copy published in 1946 with illustrations by Jack Tinker.   The story was first published in 1820 and has wonderfully complicated language – the fantastic illustrations help make the language a bit more enjoyable for our 2013 brains to wade through.

People just don’t write like that anymore – for good reason, I guess: who has time to use 77 words to describe a person when you could just say “he was tall and thin.”  But then, you do lose a good understanding of just how tall and thin Ichabod was: “He was tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together.  His head was small, and flat at top, with huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snip nose, so that it looked like a weather-cock, perched upon his spindle neck, to tell which way the wind blew.”

You’re probably familiar with the story – it’s set in 1790 in the countryside of upstate New York, in a little village called Sleepy Hollow.  Ichabod Crane is a schoolteacher who believes in all sorts of superstitions.  He sets his cap for a particular good lookin’ girl, Katrina Van Tassel, whose daddy is wealthy.  Ichabod would inherit, if he married Katrina, a pretty easy life.  But every guy in town has the hots for her, particularly a bloke named Brom Bones – who is at the root of every prank that is ever pulled in Sleepy Hollow.  At a party around what one might assume is Halloween, various people are telling tales, including Ichabod.  Brom Bones decides to tell a scary tale to make Ichabod sweat – he’s got a lonely ride home ahead of him after the party.  The tale is of the Headless Horseman, a Hessian soldier killed in a nearby Revolutionary War battle when a cannonball took off his head.  According to Brom Bones, he has been roaming the countryside ever since, looking for his head.  Naturally, ol’ Ichabod is freaked out on the ride back home and imagines all sorts of things – especially that the Horseman is chasing him.  And he is.  You can read more about the story here.  But first, check out these great illustrations from our book:

slbook dancing with katrina

Ichabod, quite the ladies’ man.


ichabod bug

After an afternoon spent reading about witches and spooks in Cotton Mather’s History of New England Witchcraft, Ichabod jumps out of his skin when a beetle blunders into him when he’s walking home – he was momentarily convinced he’d been struck by a “witch’s token.”


ichabod chase

The Chase: the Horseman is gaining on him – poor ol’ Icky.


We’re about halfway through the story this year (reading in fairly short snippets because an unnamed someone keeps falling asleep…), just getting to the part with Brom Bones.  It might be a few more nights, at this pace…

sleepy hollow mill pondEvery year when we read this, I think – we should go there.  Of course, we’re 223 years removed from the setting of the story, so of course nothing is going to be like it was then in that part of the country, not by a long shot.  There is a real Sleepy Hollow (with a real trademarked slogan: where the legend lives) that is thriving off of tourism, no doubt, and while I usually give a general eye roll in the direction of such things, I can’t help myself – I’m intrigued.  There are actual historic buildings and natural structures to see, after all, the very same ones Irving wrote about, you know.  It could be cool.  Like Philipsburg Manor (above left), the millpond around which Ichabod strutted, wooing various “country coquettes.”

sleepy hollow bridge

Or there’s the carriage roads near the Pocantico River (on the right), the same roads Ichabod traveled home from the party that fateful night:  “Not far from this village, perhaps about two miles, there is a little valley or rather lap of land among high hills, which is one of the quietest places in the whole world. A small brook glides through it, with just murmur enough to lull one to repose; and the occasional whistle of a quail or tapping of a woodpecker is almost the only sound that ever breaks in upon the uniform tranquility.”

Dreaming of literary tourism.  We are nerds.

Ichabod scary tree

Ah well.  There are all sorts of film and TV versions, of course, and while we do like the Johnny Depp version (with creepy Christopher Walken as the Hessian/horseman – ugh, what a weird dude) reading the original has always been our favorite.

The 1949 Disney cartoon version, of course, is the first way I became acquainted with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  I have no idea why I have always thought this was pretty funny, not all that scary (not Garfield’s Halloween scary, in any case). In the Disney version,  Ichabod is pretty close to how illustrator Jack Tinker depicted him in our book.  Bing Crosby did the narration and was the voice of Ichabod.  And looky here, after some poking around on YouTube, I found where someone uploaded the whole thing:

You watched it, didn’t you?  How ’bout that ride home (23:30 through about 27:55), and then you hear the Horseman’s maniacal laughter?! Yikes!

Heh, on second thought, it’ll be quite a few years before we introduce our kids to Sleepy Hollow in any form, even the Disney one. Maybe this is one of those best kept as a tradition for *A* and me – at least until someone other than *A* is brave enough to make it through Garfield’s Halloween without getting the heebie jeebies.

Image credits: All book images belong to me; Philipsburg Manor: https://findery.com/MadameSpooky/notes/legend-of-sleepy-hollow-philipsburg-manor via Wikipedia; Pocantico River bridge: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/findery/real-places-from-the-lege_b_4110595.html via Visit Sleepy Hollow.com.  


5 thoughts on “Our Halloween Tradition: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

  1. I can’t help it if I fall asleep before you, the night owl. I enjoy sleeping. AND these posts to flow from you like water from the tap 🙂

  2. Pingback: Now for October Eves! | The Littlest Brooks-Livingston


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