Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mors Vincit Omnia: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

What better place to feature during our week of bewitching posts than Sleepy Hollow, New York. The town which is located in upstate New York, about thirty minutes from New York City, was originally called Tarrytown until the nineties when the residents voted to officially change the name to one made quite famous by a certain Mr. Washington Irving. While the town is also famous for being home to Kykuit, the Rockefeller's home away from home, it is, perhaps, most well known for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and a certain headless horseman.

Because I am a bit of a nerd and an avid historian, this post has the potential to become quite massive. Since I am sure none of you, dear readers, care to delve that deep into this particular topic, I shall attempt to limit myself.
Headless Horseman Bridge
This summer, while on a road trip across the east coast with some dear friends, I was able to persuade them that we simply MUST STOP in Sleepy Hollow on our way north. To set the scene, you must picture the four of us, traipsing through the massive cemetery at the Old Dutch Church. It's about ninety degrees out, and we've just spent a good thirty minutes attempting to find Elizabeth Arden's grave. On the hike back to our car (because, you guys, upstate New York has hills!), I'm attempting to explain this feeling that I have, like we've missed something. When out of nowhere, this old man complete with oxygen tank, comes riding up on a lawn mower. And when I say nowhere, I mean nowhere! Lawnmowers are loud and kind of hard to miss, but POOF, there it was. What followed was a personal tour by the one and only Mr. Wilhelm Lent, lifelong citizen of Sleepy Hollow, descendent of one of the founding Dutch families, and tour-guide extraordinare. Have I mentioned that I'm also convinced he was the ghost of Washington Irving? Because HE TOTALLY WAS. How else did he appear out of thin air and know all the inside details of The Legend which I shall now share with you:

Clockwise from top: 1)Welcome to Sleepy Hollow 2) A view through the window of the Old Dutch Church into the choir loft where Ichabod first sees Katrina 3) Irving's gravesite 4)Katrina Van Tassell's grave (most of the headstones are so old and worn that the only way to read them is by shining sunlight off a giant mirror)
Washington Irving based The Legend of Sleepy Hollow on events and people that really happened/existed. Ichabod Crane, the protagonist, was based on three men that Irving knew. All of whom are buried in the cemetery. The character of Katrina Van Tassell was based on a lady whom Irving was in love with, in fact, his first glimpse of her was much the same as Ichabod's first of Katrina, when the light glimmered through the windows of the Old Dutch Church, illuminating a beautiful girl singing in the choir. Katrina is buried in the cemetery, next to her husband, and her headstone reads: Mors Vincit Omnia (death conquers all). How morbid! Katrina's niece, Leah Van Tassell, has an interesting story to share. When she was a baby, her house was ransacked by a group of British and Hessian soldiers. They set fire to the house, and her mother was inconsolable that her baby daughter was going to die such a horrid death. Hearing her screams, a young Hessian soldier hushed her and pulled her to the back of the house where Leah was hidden away from the smoldering house. The mother and daughter were able to escape the slaughter, with his help. A couple years later, during one of the many Revolutionary War battles that were fought in the area, the Hessian soldier was beheaded when a stray cannonball came flying in his direction. He is now buried in an unmarked grave not far from the Van Tassells. And right across the road is the bridge that he and his horse come flying across every night in order to make it back to the cemetery before sunrise.

It's my opinion that some of the best stories are those that have their beginnings in reality. Next time you're in New York, take the scenic drive to the lovely town of Sleepy Hollow. Prepare to be overwhelmed by the fantastical atmosphere of the entire place. Take a walk through the Old Dutch Church Cemetery, and say hello to Washington Irving, perhaps you'll get lucky as we did and get your own private tour. But most of all, make sure you're gone before sunset, because the headless horseman is waiting.


  1. NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!! I WANT TO KNOW MORE! MORE, I SAY!!!!!!!! But I must confess, while I'm wildly intrigued by this whole thing, I'm also terrified. Like the movie Sleepy Hollow? Forget it. I do *not* do scary and I almost had a conniption fit.

  2. AND I WANT TO TELL YOU MORE. But I really was trying not to take over the blog with this post, which would have been so easy. I do seem to have a bit of a thing for graveyards, don't ask, I know it's creepy. Sleepy Hollow is seriously one of the MOST gorgeous places I've ever visited. I've actually tried to find a job in the area so I could move there.
    See, movies like Sleepy Hollow don't scare me, I think they're fascinating. Probably because I love the myth behind the legend.

  3. Mariah! This place looks AMAZING!! I am with you, totally fascinated by the myth and the legend and the "I secretly believe this is real" factor in places like this. And as for the movie, I don't usually do scary either (Sally can attest to that; she watched The Village with me, bahahaha), but I LOVED Sleepy Hollow. So well done.

  4. This should be on our list of places for VS road trips! Because it is just that amazing. I really want to go during Halloween one year, because the town pulls out all the stops!

  5. Okay I really want to go at Halloween! Even if the horse man is waiting. Love the pics