Ever Since Washington Irving published The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in 1820 his iconic monster The Headless Horseman has been a major part of American folklore. In fact, the town of Sleepy Hollow New York (which used to be called North Tarrytown but changed it to Sleepy Hollow in 1996) makes a ton of money every Halloween from that legend. They’re very proud of it.
There are a few things about that story though.
Firstly, people only talk about the Headless Horseman man talking about the story. The horseman only appears in the last few pages of the story. The majority of the story is about Ichabod Crane trying to get married to Katrina Van Tassel and making sure Abraham “Brom Bones” Van Brunt doesn’t. We don’t get to see anything relating to hosts until Crane goes to a party where people are telling ghost stories and the big one was about The Headless Horseman.
If that’s the case why has it endured for almost two centuries? When you look at it, this is a tale of a guy from New York City heading north to a small town that’s completely different than NYC to be a schoolmaster and then falls for a local girl because daddy’s rich and is willing to fight the local boy for her hand. Think about that: Crane wanted to marry Katrina for money.
Ichabod Crane is a dick.
He does get his just deserts when The Headless Horseman kills him/spirits him away/makes him run back to NYC in the middle of the night on the bridge. So in essence, this can be taken as an American morality story saying that creed will lead you nowhere. Or, to put it another way, what goes around comes around.
As far as reading the story, it’s that late 18th/early19th Century super dry/formal writing that many 21st Century writers can’t get into. While that may be the case, the story is also pretty short. It’s only about 20-25 pages depending on what edition you’re reading. However, there is substance to the story. It creates a picture of how life was like in small New York State villages in the early 19th Century. In fact, the only thing that’s different today is technology and clothes. You go anywhere north of New York City today and you’ll be confused. New York State is so diverse (and gorgeous, especially in the fall) that NYC just feels like a red-headed stepchild.
And that is what Irving tried to do with this story. Not write a ghost story, but write a tale that shows the big city mixing with small-town life can be a negative but the soul of small-town life wins out. Take that how you may.
With that, read Washington Irving’s tale or even watch the many adaptations that were made about it. If you can, and love Halloween, head on over to Sleepy Hollow itself and see the town for yourself. Just don’t expect the town to be creepy looking. It’s just a normal 21st Century town with spooky legend. NYC has a LOT more ghosts and don’t get me started with Savanah Georgia or New Orleans.