The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
In the bosom of one of those spacious coves which indent the eastern shore of the Hudson, at that broad expansion of the river denominated by the ancient Dutch navigators the Tappan Zee, and where they always prudently shortened sail and implored the protection of Saint Nicholas, there lies a small market town which is generally known by the name of Tarry Town. This name was given by the good housewives of the adjacent country from the inveterate propensity of their husbands to linger about the village tavern on market days. Not far from this village, perhaps about two miles, there is a little valley among high hills which is one of the quietest places in the whole world. A small brook murmurs through it and, with the occasional whistle of a quail or tapping of a woodpecker, is almost the only sound that ever breaks the uniform tranquillity.
Explanation … The Hudson River as it nears Southeastern New York, widens to about 5km. This part of the Hudson River got its name from the early Dutch settlers who inhabited its banks and set up small communities. Being wide, Tappan Zee was considered perilous for voyagers. So, navigators during those days, decreased the speed of their boats by lowering the sails.
Tarry town was one such small town. It had a few pubs that were very popular with the men folk from nearby areas. They hang around in the pubs for long periods. Because of this attraction of pubs of the town for the men, the women satirically named it Tarry Town.
From the listless repose of the place, this sequestered glen has long been known by the name of Sleepy Hollow. Some say that the place was bewitched during the early days of the Dutch settlement; others, that an old Indian chief, the wizard of his tribe, held his powwows there before the country was discovered by Master Hendrick Hudson. Certain it is, the place still continues under the sway of some witching power that holds a spell over the minds of the descendants of the original settlers. They are given to all kinds of marvelous beliefs, are subject to trances and visions, and frequently hear music and voices in the air. The whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions.
The dominant spirit that haunts this enchanted region is the apparition of a figure on horseback without a head. It is said to be the ghost of a Hessian trooper, whose head had been carried away by a cannonball in some nameless battle during the Revolutionary War, and who is ever seen by the countryfolk, hurrying along in the gloom of the night as if on the wings of the wind. Historians of those parts allege that the body of the trooper having been buried in the yard of a church at no great distance, the ghost rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head; and that the rushing speed with which he sometimes passes along the Hollow is owing to his being in a hurry to get back to the churchyard before daybreak. The specter is known, at all the country firesides, by the name of the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.
Explanation … The settlement was idyllic, relaxed and sedate. It aptly went by the name Sleepy Hallow. There are conflicting anecdotal stories relating to the settlement’s origin. One story says how, in the early stages of Dutch settlement there, the place was bewitched. The other is a bit more colourful. According to it, the local Chief of the Red-Indian tribe used to hold his boisterous singing and dancing festival there. It was prior to the discovery of the place by Master Hendrick Hudson.
Nonetheless, an intriguing witch presence is still pervasive there. The settlers have not been able to rid their minds of such witchcraft. They seem to see weird visions and hear mysterious voices and sounds in the area. Layers and layers of myth has built up on these stories and every settler here has a bagful of these mystifying stories.
A common plot that runs through all the versions of the myriad ghost stories is about a headless man mounted on a horse galloping up and down over the place at night. People relate this headless man to be a Hessian trooper. During the Revolutionary war, in one remote battle front, a cannonball from the enemy side severed his head from his body.
People in the know of the local history ascribe this horse-mounted headless man to be coming out of the grave located in the nearby churchyard. No doubt, the fighter was buried there. The gallant fighter does his nocturnal err5ands to find out his severed head. He rushes back to the grave well before the day break. This version is embedded in every one’s mind in Sleepy Hollow.
It is remarkable that this visionary propensity is not confined to native inhabitants of this little retired Dutch valley, but is unconsciously imbibed by everyone who resides there for a time. However wide-awake they may have been before they entered that sleepy region, they are sure, in a little time, to inhale the witching influence of the air and begin to grow imaginative, to dream dreams, and see apparitions.
Explanation … Such weird tale of a headless man doing errands to locate his severed head finds credence not only among the original inhabitants, but also among outsiders who come to reside here. The sway of the ghost story grips them, no matter how rational they are in their outlooks.
In this by-place of nature there abode, some thirty years since, a worthy wight of the name of Ichabod Crane, a native of Connecticut, who “tarried” in Sleepy Hollow for the purpose of instructing the children of the vicinity. He was tall and exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, and feet that might have served for shovels. His head was small, and flat at top, with huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so that it looked like a weathercock perched upon his spindle neck, to tell which way the wind blew. To see him striding along on a windy day, with his clothes bagging and fluttering about him, one might have mistaken him for some scarecrow eloped from a cornfield.
Explanation .. Some thirty years ago, a man named Ichabod Crane, originally hailing from Connecticut came to live here. He said he wanted to teach children. He was a tall man with a wiry frame and narrow shoulders. He had long limbs and large feet. With his small head and large ears, he had a curious look. When mounted on a horse and striding, one could mistake him to be a scare-crow.
His schoolhouse was a low building of one large room, rudely constructed of logs. It stood in a rather lonely but pleasant situation, just at the foot of a woody hill, witha brook running close by, and a formidable birch tree growing at one end of it. From hence the low murmur of his pupils’ voices, conning over their lessons, might be heard on a drowsy summer’s day, interrupted now and then by the voice of the master in a tone of menace or command; or by the appalling sound of the birch as he urged some wrongheaded Dutch urchin along the flowery path of knowledge. All this he called “doing his duty,” and he never inflicted a chastisement without following it by the assurance, so consolatory to the smarting urchin, that “he would remember it, and thank him for it the longest day he had to live.”
Explanation .. He managed to erect a hovel to be used as his school. A runnel ran nearby, and the school stood aside a hill in a rather lonely place. The sound made by the students was audible from afar. The sound was punctuated by the commanding voice of Ichabod Crane, who apparently did his job well. In his pedagogy, he adopted a stick and carrot policy, admonishing a laggard, but encouraging him in the next breath.
When school hours were over, Ichabod was even the companion and playmate of the larger boys; and on holiday afternoons would convoy some of the smaller ones home, who happened to have pretty sisters, or good housewives for mothers, noted for the comforts of the cupboard. Indeed it behooved him to keep on good terms with his pupils. The revenue arising from his school would have been scarcely sufficient to furnish him with daily bread, for he was a huge feeder and, though lank, had the dilating powers of an anaconda. To help out his maintenance he was, according to custom in those parts, boarded and lodged at the homes of his pupils a week at a time; thus going the rounds of the neighborhood, with all his worldly effects tied up in a cotton handkerchief.
Explanation .. Ichabod Crane, was a jolly and jovial teacher who mingled with the students freely. He played games with the older ones and, when needed, escorted the smaller ones home. His eyes looked around for pretty adolescent girls, obviously for amorous intentions. He endeared himself to young housewives, and received small favours.
He barely made anything from his school venture. For his board and lodge, he stayed with families for a week each, thus managing his shelter and food. In this regard, he was quite clever.
That this might not be too onerous for his rustic patrons, he assisted the farmers occasionally by helping to make hay, mending the fences, and driving the cows from pasture. He laid aside, too, all the dominant dignity with which he lorded it in the school, and became wonderfully gentle and ingratiating. He found favor in the eyes of the mothers by petting the children, particularly the youngest, and he would sit with a child on one knee, and rock a cradle with his foot for whole hours together.
Explanation .. To ensure he e4arned his keep honourably, Ichabod often doubled up as a farm hand for his hosts. In the farms, his countenance was quite humble compared to his stern persona at school. He went to the extent of currying favours with mothers by petting their children. He would amuse the kids through play and fun.
In addition to his other vocations, he was the singing master of the neighborhood, and picked up many bright shillings by instructing the young folks in psalmody. Thus, by divers little makeshifts, the worthy pedagogue got on tolerably enough and was thought, by all who understood nothing of the labor of headwork, to have a wonderfully easy life of it.
The schoolmaster is generally a man of some importance in the female circle of a rural neighborhood, being considered a kind of idle, gentlemanlike personage, of vastly superior taste and accomplishments to the rough country swains. How he would figure among the country damsels in the churchyard, between services on Sundays! – gathering grapes for them from the wild vines that overran the surrounding trees; reciting for their amusement all the epitaphs on the tombstones; while the more bashful bumpkins hung sheepishly back, envying his superior elegance and address.
Explanation … Ichabod had another talent. He could sing, and teach singing. In his school, he was the singing master. In his small host community, he was a loved singer. Using these skills, he endeared himself with the people around him. He went to extraordinary lengths to entreat the young maidens whom he met at the church. He would pluck wild grapes for them earning their acclaim and appreciation.
With a good deal of success, he cultivated the image of a suave, soft and likeable person amo9ng the womenfolk there.
He was, moreover, esteemed by the women as a man of great erudition, for he had read several books quite through, and was a perfect master of Cotton Mather’s ‘History of New England Witchcraft’. His appetite for the marvelous was extraordinary. It was often his delight, after his school was dismissed, to stretch himself on the clover bordering the little brook and there con over old Mather’s direful tales in the gathering dusk. Then, as he wended his way to the farmhouse where he happened to be quartered, every sound of nature, the boding cry of the tree toad, the dreary hooting of the screech owl, fluttered his excited imagination. His only resource on such occasions was to sing psalm tunes; and the good people of Sleepy Hollow were often filled with awe at hearing his nasal melody floating along the dusky road.
Explanation …. The women perceived him to be a man of intellect and learning. He showed off his erudition by citing from Cotton Mather’s ‘History of New England Witchcraft’. After his school hours, he wandered around near the banks of the brook lazily. Then, he used to moved around leisurely enjoying the flora and fauna of the place. A frog’s cry appealed to him too. He sang aloud merrily to spend the hours before dusk fell.
Another of his sources of fearful pleasure was to pass long winter evenings with the old Dutch wives, as they sat spinning by the fire, with a row of apples roasting and spluttering along the hearth, and listen to their marvelous tales of ghosts and goblins, haunted bridges and haunted houses, and particularly of the headless horseman. But if there was a pleasure in all this while snugly cuddling in the chimney corner, it was dearly purchased by the terrors of his subsequent walk homeward. How often did he shrink with curdling awe at some rushing blast, howling among the trees of a snowy night, in the idea that it was the Galloping Hessian of the Hollow!
Explanation …. Ichabod listened keenly to the umpteen tales narrated by old Dutch wives as the latter sat by the fire side roasting apples in winter evenings. Such friendship was rather odd. In the ghost stories of the women the headless rider’s story surely found place here and there. The ghost stories remained alive in his mind and when he began his walk back home during the cold solitary nights, the ghosts’ memories did trouble him. Any sound or a blast of air would send chills down his spine, reminding him of the headless rider — Hessian of the Hollow.
All these, however, were mere phantoms of the dark. Daylight put mend to all these evils. He would have passed a pleasant life of it if his path had not been crossed by a being that causes more perplexity to mortal man than ghosts, goblins, and the whole race of witches put together, and that was — a woman.
Among the musical disciples who assembled, one evening in each week, to receive his instructions in psalmody was Katrina Van Tassel, the only child of a substantial Dutch farmer. She was a blooming lass of fresh eighteen, plump as a partridge, ripe and melting and rosy-cheeked as one of her father’s peaches, and universally famed, not merely for her beauty, but her vast expectations. She was withal a little of a coquette, as might be perceived in her dress. She wore ornaments of pure yellow gold to set off her charms, and a provokingly short petticoat to display the prettiest foot and ankle in the country round.
Explanation … Such fears vanished as dawn came. Around this time a woman arrived in his life bringing with her endless torment. Her name was Katrina Van Tassel. She was his pupil in the music class. She was the only child of an affluent Dutch settler. He dreamed of marrying her one day so that he could inherit the vast farm property of her father. Thus, the cocktail of Katrina’s beauty and the sprawling farm’s bounty made Ichabod crave for her. Katrina wore a lot of gold and her petticoat, shorter than usual, could put any bachelor’s heart afire. Ichabod was no exception.
Ichabod Crane had a soft and foolish heart toward the sex; and it is not to be wondered at that so tempting a morsel soon found favor in his eyes, more especially after he had visited her in her paternal mansion. Old Baltus Van Tassel was a perfect picture of a thriving, contented, liberal-hearted farmer. He seldom, it is true, sent either his eyes or his thoughts beyond the boundaries of his own farm; but within those everything was snug, happy, and abundant.
Explanation … Ichabod was particularly vulnerable to the charm of the fair sex. No wonder, Katrina set her heart alight. Katrina’s father Baltus Van Tassel lived in his own contented world –of his harvest and his house. He had no place for the intrigue of the outside world.
The Van Tassel stronghold was situated on the banks of the Hudson, in one of those green, sheltered, fertile nooks in which the Dutch farmers are so fond of nestling. A great elm tree spread its broad branches over it, at the foot of which bubbled up a spring of the softest and sweetest water. Hard by the farmhouse was a vast barn, every window and crevice of which seemed bursting forth with the treasures of the farm. Rows of pigeons were enjoying the sunshine on the roof. Sleek unwieldy porkers were grunting in the repose and abundance of their pens. A stately squadron of snowy geese were riding in an adjoining pond, convoying whole fleets of ducks; regiments of turkeys were gobbling through the farmyard.
The pedagogue’s mouth watered as he looked upon this sumptuous promise of luxurious winter fare. In his devouring mind’s eye he pictured to himself every roasting pig running about with an apple in his mouth; the pigeons were snugly put to bed in a comfortable pie, and tucked in with a coverlet of crust.
Explanation … The Van Tassel house was situated in the bank of the Hudson river, ensconced in lush green surroundings, under the thick foliage of an elm tree. There was a store house bursting with harvested crop. A herd of pigs grazed nearby. The place looked so picturesque with herd of ducks around in the pond.
Ichabod’s eyes couldn’t lose sight of the bounty of this place. Avarice for the property swamped his mind. He conjured up visions of one day basking in the comforts of this farm, as its owner.
As the enraptured Ichabod fancied all this, and as he rolled his great green eyes over the fat meadowlands, the rich fields of wheat, rye, buckwheat, and Indian corn, and the orchard, burdened with ruddy fruit, which surrounded the warm tenement of Van Tassel, his heart yearned after the damsel who was to inherit these domains, and his imagination expanded with the idea how they might be readily turned into cash, and the money invested in immense tracts of wild land, and shingle palaces in the wilderness. His busy fancy already presented to him the blooming Katrina, with a whole family of children, mounted on the top of a wagon loaded with household trumpery; and he beheld himself bestriding a pacing mare, with a colt at her heels, setting out for Kentucky, Tennessee, or the Lord knows where.
Explanation … The rich fields of wheat, rye, buckwheat, and Indian corn, and the orchard, danced in the inner consciousness of the young teacher-cum-wander’s mind. Van Tassel’s property and his daughter, both were irritable, he thought. He fancied himself as the husband of a fecund Katrina who has given him a big family, besides the wealth from the farm. The family is heading towards Kentucky, Tennessee.
When he entered the house, the conquest of his heart was complete. It was one of those spacious farmhouses, with high-ridged but low-sloping roofs, built in the style handed down from the first Dutch settlers, the projecting eaves forming a piazza along the front. From the piazza the wondering Ichabod entered the hall, which formed the center of the mansion. Here, rows of resplendent pewter, ranged on a long dresser, dazzled his eyes. In one corner stood a huge bag of wool ready to be spun; ears of Indian corn and strings of dried apples and peaches hung in gay festoons along the walls; and a door left ajar gave him a peep into the best parlor, where the claw-footed chairs and dark mahogany tables shone like mirrors. Mock oranges and conch shells decorated the mantelpiece; strings of various colored birds’ eggs were suspended above it, and a corner cupboard, knowingly left open, displayed immense treasures of old silver and well-mended china.
Explanation … Van Tassel’s house was typically Dutch in architecture. Ichabod was greatly delighted. On entering the mansion, he found, to his great amazement, rows of resplendent pewter, ranged on a long dresser. A big bag of wool ready to be spun was there in one corner. Strings of dried apples and peaches hung in gay garlands along the walls. He pried into the inside and found the best parlor, with claw-footed chairs and dark mahogany tables. The look left him dazed.
From the moment Ichabod laid his eyes upon these regions of delight, the peace of his mind was at an end, and his only study was how to win the heart of the peerless daughter of Van Tassel. In this enterprise, however, he had to encounter a host of rustic admirers, who kept a watchful and angry eye upon each other, but were ready to fly out in the common cause against any new competitor. Among these the most formidable was a burly, roaring, roistering blade of the name of Brom Van Brunt, the hero of the country round, which rang with his feats of strength and hardihood. He was broad-shouldered, with short curly black hair, and a bluff but not unpleasant countenance, having a mingled air of fun and arrogance. From his Herculean frame, he had received the nickname of “Brom Bones.” He was famed for great skill in horsemanship; he was foremost at all races and cockfights; and, with the ascendancy which bodily strength acquires in rustic life, was the umpire in all disputes. He was always ready for either a fight or a frolic, but had more mischief and good humor than ill will in his composition. He had three or four boon companions who regarded him as their model, and at the head of whom he scoured the country, attending every scene of feud or merriment for miles round. Sometimes his crew would be heard dashing along past the farmhouses at midnight, with whoop and halloo, and the old dames would exclaim, “Aye, there goes Brom Bones and his gang!”
Explanation … The bountiful farm and the voluptuous Katrina set Ichabod Crane’s heart aflutter. He was determined to have her, and, thus, the property of Van Tassel. Sadly for him, there were other jealous suitors too, vying for Katrina’s hand. Among the contenders , there was a man named Brom Van Brunt, who had less brain, but more brawn. He was the local muscle man with a loyal coterie. Brom Van Brunt was unattractive, and he excelled in horse riding, and cockfight contests. He roamed in the countryside the whole day stamping his authority all over the place. At times, he strode along his loyal followers in the countryside at night. His daredevilry was well known.
This hero had for some time singled out the blooming Katrina for the object of his uncouth gallantries; and though his amorous toyings were something like the gentle caresses of a bear, yet it was whispered that she did not altogether discourage his hopes. Certain it is, his advances were signals for rival candidates to retire; insomuch that, when his horse was seen tied to Van Tassel’s paling on a Sunday night, all other suitors passed by in despair.
Such was the formidable rival with whom Ichabod Crane had to contend. Considering all things, a stouter man than he would have shrunk from the competition. Ichabod had, however, a happy mixture of pliability and perseverance in his nature; he was in form and spirit like a supplejack – though he bent, he never broke.
Explanation … To impress Katrina, Brom Van Brunt engaged in some foolhardy feats. Katrina didn’t quite object to his passes at her. With this burly man in the fray, a few others had to retire from the pursuit of Katrina. Brom Van Brunt frequented the Tassel home on Saturday nights just to mingle with her.
Ichabod had the most daunting task in hand. He had to beat Brom Van Brunt in the race for Katrina. Ichabod was no match for Brunt’s large frame and broad shoulders, but he remained unruffled. He persisted in his efforts to win her.
To have taken the field openly against his rival would have been madness. Ichabod, therefore, made his advances in a quiet and gently insinuating manner. Under cover of his character of singing master, he had made frequent visits at the farmhouse, carrying on his suit with the daughter by the side of the spring under the great elm, while Balt Van Tassel sat smoking his evening pipe at one end of the piazza and his little wife plied her spinning wheel at the other.
Explanation .. Ichabod couldn’t summon enough courage to take on his muscular rival. Instead, he chose a roundabout way. Ostensibly to teach music, he made many visits to the Tassel mansion. He mingled with Katrina unhindered as her father and mother remained busy with their chores.
I profess not to know how women’s hearts are wooed and won. To me they have always been matters of riddle and admiration. But certain it is that from the moment Ichabod Crane made his advances, the interests of Brom Bones declined; his horse was no longer seen tied at the paiings on Sunday nights, and a deadly feud gradually arose between him and the schoolmaster of Sleepy Hollow. Brom would fain have carried matters to open warfare, and Ichabod had overheard a boast by Bones that he would “double the schoolmaster up, and lay him on a shelf of his own schoolhouse”; but Ichabod was too wary to give him an opportunity. Brom had no alternative but to play off boorish practical jokes upon his rival. Bones and his gang of rough riders smoked out Ichabod’s singing school by stopping up the chimney; broke into the schoolhouse at night and turned everything topsy-turvy. But what was still more annoying, Brom took opportunities of turning him to ridicule in presence of his mistress, and had a scoundrel dog whom he taught to whine in the most ludicrous manner, and introduced as a rival of Ichabod’s to instruct Katrina in psalmody.
Explanation .. Quite curiously, as Ichabod went about his job of courting Katrina, the rival, the roughneck Brom Bones began to lose interest in her. His visits to her house on Sunday nights became less frequent. But, the competition between the two suitors manifested itself in different ways. Ichabod heard some very vengeful comments made by his rival against him. Brom played some humiliating jokes with Ichabod to undermine him before Katrina. Brom’s gang vandalized Ichabod’s school smashing it to pieces. Brom even belittled Ichabod in the presence of Katrina. Brom even brought in a rival music teacher for Katrina.
In this way matters went on for some time. On a fine autumnal afternoon, Ichabod, in pensive mood, sat enthroned on the lofty stool whence he usually watched all the concerns of his little schoolroom. His scholars were all busily intent upon their books, or slyly whispering behind them with one eye kept upon the master; and a kind of buzzing stillness reigned. It was suddenly interrupted by the appearance of a Negro, mounted on the back of a ragged colt. He came clattering up to the school door with an invitation to Ichabod to attend a merrymaking to be held that evening at Mynheer Van Tassel’s.
Explanation … The tug of war went on for a while. One afternoon, Ichabod sat there alone. He was sorrowful. The students were busy with their lessons. From nowhere a Negro appeared mounted on a horse. He invited Ichabod to a merry-making party at the Tassel home in the evening.