Washington Irving, first published in 1819 in a collection of 34 essays titled The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. Translated into Modern English, otherwise exactly the same.
Nightmare’s Edge did an amazing narration of this one; I highly recommend listening to it for the full experience!
FOUND AMONG THE PAPERS OF THE LATE DIEDRICH KNICKERBOCKER…
On the eastern shore of the Hudson, at the heart of a spacious cove near the Tappan Zee bridge, there lies a small rural port; it is properly known as Tarry Town, but some call it Greensburgh. It was named by the housewives of sailors who lingered in the Tavern on market days. Two miles away, there is a little valley among high hills which is the quietest place in the world. A small brook runs through it just gently enough to lull one to sleep; quail and woodpeckers are almost the only sounds to break the perfect tranquility.
As a child, my first time squirrel hunting was in a grove of walnut trees that shaded one side of the valley. I wandered in at noon, when all nature is peculiarly quiet, and was startled by the roar of my own gun breaking the perfect stillness. If I ever wish to leave my troubling life and world of distractions, there is no better place than this little valley.
For those qualities and for the strange character of its inhabitants – who are descended from the original Dutch settlers – the glen became known as Sleepy Hollow; the wild children living there were called the Sleepy Hollow Boys throughout the neighboring countries. A drowsy, dreamy influence hangs over the land, spreading through the atmosphere. Some say the place was cursed by a German witch-doctor during the early days of settlement; others, that an old Indian chief held powwows there before the land was discovered by Master Hendrick Hudson. It is certain that some spell still holds power over the minds of the good people, causing them to remain lost in fantasy. They have all kinds of marvelous beliefs; they are prone to trances, strange visions, and hearing music or voices. The neighborhood is filled with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions; shooting stars and meteors race across the valley more often than anywhere in the country. It seems to be a favorite trick of evil spirits.
The ghost that commands the most power is the apparition of a headless man on horseback. Some claim he is the ghost of a Hessian soldier who was beheaded by a cannonball during the Revolutionary War. Now, the country folk see him hurrying along in the gloom of night as if carried by the wind. He is not confined to the valley, and often extends his haunts to the connecting roads – especially to the nearby church. Respected historians who have carefully studied these stories claim that the soldier’s body is buried in the churchyard, and that his ghost rides to the scene of battle in a nightly search for his head. The rushing speeds at which he passes through the Hollow are attributed to his hurry to reach the church before sunrise.
This is the event that many of the region’s scary stories are based on; the specter is known as the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow. These visions are not exclusive to the valley’s natives, but affect anyone who resides there for a time. However aware they are when entering that sleepy region, they eventually succumb to the witching influence and begin seeing apparitions.
I mention this peaceful spot with all possible praise; it is in such valleys that population, manners, and customs remain fixed while the outside world passes by unnoticed. They are like little nooks of still water bordering a rapid stream, undisturbed by the passing currents. Though many years have passed since I walked the drowsy lanes of Sleepy Hollow, nothing has changed.
Some thirty years ago, a man named Ichabod Crane came to Sleepy Hollow in order to teach the children. He was from Connecticut – a state which supplied the Union with pioneers for the mind as well as the forest; each year they sent woodsmen and teachers throughout the country. The name “Crane” fit his appearance; he was tall and lanky with narrow shoulders, long limbs, and feet like shovels. His head was small but flat on top with huge ears, green glassy eyes, and a long nose; from a distance, one could mistake him for a famine victim or scarecrow.
His log schoolhouse was a low building with one large room, and the windows were half glazed – half stuffed with leaves. When vacant, it was locked with a flexible twig twisted in the door handle and stakes set against the shutters. The school was built in a secluded but pleasant location at the foot of a wooded hill, next to an impressive birch tree and brook. From there, one might hear the low murmur of students studying their lessons – often interrupted by their teacher’s commanding tone as he urged the lazier children along the path of knowledge. He was a conscientious man, and always remembered the golden rule, “spare the rod and spoil the child.” Ichabod Crane’s students were not spoiled.
He was not cruel, he did not enjoy disciplining them; his punishments were dealt with discrimination. The weak were not stricken with the same force as the strong, disrespectful brats who sulked and squirmed beneath the paddle. Ichabod called this “doing his duty by their parents”; he never administered spankings without reassuring the students they “would appreciate the gesture as adults.”
When school ended, he was even a friend to the older boys. On holiday afternoons, he escorted the younger children home if they had pretty sisters or mothers who might feed him as thanks. It benefited him to stay on good terms with his students. The salary from his school was scarcely enough to buy daily bread. Though skinny, he possessed the consumption powers of an anaconda; it was customary in those parts for the children’s parents to house their teacher. With that assistance, he survived week to week – making his rounds through the neighborhood with all his worldly possessions tied in a cotton handkerchief.
To prevent things from being too inconvenient on his host’s wallet – who often considered him a grievous burden – he had various ways to make himself useful. He occasionally assisted farmers in their lighter chores – making hay, mending fences, watering horses, driving cows from pasture, and cutting wood. Ichabod laid aside the dominant ego which he lorded in his schoolhouse empire – becoming wholly gentle and kind. He found favor with the mothers by coddling the youngest children; he would sit with one child on his knee while rocking a cradle with his foot for hours at a time.
In addition to his other skills, he was the best singer in the neighborhood and often earned extra money by teaching the young children hymns. On Sundays, Ichabod proudly gathered his chosen singers to stand in front of the church, where – in his mind – he completely stole the show from the pastor. It is certain his voice was the best of the congregation, and – to this day – his student’s descendants can still be heard singing on Sunday mornings. It was by these clever strategies the worthy teacher got along and was thought to have an easy life.
In the rural neighborhoods, women generally regarded the schoolmasters as important men with superior tastes and accomplishments when compared to laborers. When they come to dinner, special desserts are made, and the fine silver is used. Ichabod, therefore, was particularly happy in the country women’s company; in the churchyard on Sundays, he visited with each lady – gathering grapes and reciting poetry as his country bumpkin counterparts envied his elegance from a distance.
Thanks to his well-traveled lifestyle, Ichabod was also a walking gossip factory which meant his arrival was always met with satisfaction. Women respected him as an intelligent man for the many books he read, and he was an expert on Cotton Mather’s History of New England Witchcraft – in which he firmly believed.
He was actually an odd mixture of shrewdness and gullibility. His hunger for the extraordinary and ability to understand it were equally remarkable – and heightened by this spellbound region. No tale was too gross or monstrous for his curiosity; after school, he often laid in the clover-patches nearby and read old Mather’s scary stories until it was too dark to see the words. Then, at the witching hour, he made his way past the swamp, stream, and awful woodland to the farm where he was currently staying; every sound of nature excited his imagination from the moaning whippoorwills to the foreboding cry of the tree toads. The fireflies sparkled vividly in the darkest places, startling Ichabod when they shot across his path; if a large beetle surprised him, he thought it came from a witch. His way to combat the evil spirits was to sing hymns; the people of Sleepy Hollow were often filled with awe at hearing his nasal melody floating along the dusky road.
In the winter months, he enjoyed sitting by the fire as wives roasted apples and tended their needlework because they shared stories of the local haunts and Headless Horseman. In return, he delighted them with witchy anecdotes, dreadful omens, and old, Connecticut legends; though, they were frightened by his speculations of comets and meteors – especially coupled with the knowledge our world sits at an angle— rotating!
On his subsequent walks home, he paid for these pleasures in terror. Frightening shapes and shadows haunted his path in the dim glow of snowy nights. He eyed every trembling ray of light that reflected from distant windows. Several times along his route, he mistook the snow-covered shrubs for ghosts or shrank with fright at the sound of his own steps on the frosty ground; he could not look over his shoulder for fear of what he might see, and he was often dismayed by blasts of wind howling through the trees – believing it was the Galloping Hessian on his nightly ride!
However, these were merely terrors created by the mind; though Ichabod had seen many ghosts, daylight brought an end to all of these evils. He would still have led a pleasant life despite the devil’s work had he not crossed paths with an entity far worse than ghosts, goblins, or the whole race of witches combined— a woman.
Once a week, Ichabod gave music lessons, and one of his students was Katrina Van Tassel – the only child of a substantial Dutch farmer. She was a beautiful, flirty eighteen-year-old with rosy cheeks and was adored by all. Her charms were perfectly accented by a mixture of old and modern fashions; she often wore a short petticoat and gold jewelry which her great-great-grandmother brought over from Saardam.
Ichabod Crane had a soft spot for women, and it is no surprise he favored Katrina. Her father, old Baltus Van Tassel, was a thriving, content, liberal-hearted farmer. He seldom thought of anything beyond his happy, comfortable farm; he was satisfied with his wealth and did not spend it frivolously. His home was in one of those green, sheltered nooks on the Hudson, beneath the branches of a great elm tree. At the bottom was a spring of the sweetest sparkling well water which ran through the grass to a neighboring brook. Next to the farmhouse was a spacious barn big enough for a church. Every window and corner were filled with the farmer’s prized tools; swallows flew around the eaves, and rows of pigeons enjoyed the sunshine atop the roof. Heavy, grunting pigs ran about their large pens while squadrons of snowy geese swam in a connecting pond with ducks, and turkeys gobbled through the yard; a crowing rooster dug into the dirt and crowed called his family to enjoy the delicious worms.
The teacher’s mouth watered as he imagined the delicious holiday feasts. He pictured every pig already roasted with an apple in its mouth and a side of bacon carved out. The pigeons were put in pies and covered in crust. The geese swam in their own gravy and the ducks in onion sauce; around the turkey’s neck hung a necklace of savory sausages, and even the rooster lay sprawling as a side-dish.
Ichabod liked all of these, and then he saw the fields of wheat, rye, buckwheat, and corn; the orchards surrounding Van Tassel’s home were overflowing with fruit, and his heart yearned for the lady who would inherit them. He dreamed of selling them quickly so he might purchase large tracts of wild land to build upon. His busy imagination already realized his hopes and included Katrina with a whole family loaded in a wagon with all the household trimmings; then he included himself atop a pacing mare with a colt at her heels, setting out for Kentucky or Tennessee.
Once he entered the house, Katrina’s hold on his heart was complete. It was spacious with sloping roofs, and built in the style learned from the first Dutch settlers; the low hanging eaves form a porch along the front that is capable of being closed up in bad weather. It is where the flails, harnesses and fishing nets were kept; a spinning wheel sat at one end, and a churn at the other. Benches were built along the sides for summer use, and from there, Ichabod entered the hall, which was the heart of the mansion. Rows of impressive pewter dazzled his eyes. In one corner stood a bag of wool ready to be spun, and in the other was a pile fresh off the loom; ears of corn and strings of dried apples hung along the wall with red peppers. Through an open door he saw into the parlor where claw-footed chairs and mahogany tables shone like mirrors; the fireplace irons glistened, and conch shells decorated the mantle while colorful eggs were strung above it. A great ostrich egg hung in the center of the room, and an open cupboard displayed old silver and china.
From the moment Ichabod saw these delights, he focused his efforts on gaining Katrina’s affection. For this endeavor, he imagined himself as a knight storming the castle gates to rescue the captive princess, but reality proved more challenging. He had to win the heart of a vibrant, clever woman while engaging in cut-throat competition against other suitors.
His most formidable adversary was a strong, burly man named Abraham who was considered a local hero for his amazing strength. He was broad-shouldered with short, curly black hair and a pleasant face; his Herculean strength earned him the nickname, Brom Bones, and he was famous for his skill with horses. As the strongest man in a country town, he settled all disputes with a tone of finality that left no room for argument. He would fight if necessary, but his heart was filled with more mischief than cruelty; beneath his rugged exterior was a great sense of humor. He had three or four friends who looked up to him as a role model and followed him around on his travels. During the winter months, he was recognized by his fox-tailed fur hat. Sometimes, his group would ride through town in the middle of the night, laughing and cheering; their neighbors woke with a mixture of awe, admiration, and goodwill. When any prank or brawl occurred in the vicinity, all shook their heads knowing Brom Bones was behind it.
Though this unruly hero displayed his affections for Katrina in rude, lustful ways, it was said she did not reject his company. His advances were meant to discourage rivals; when his horse was tied outside Van Tassel’s home on Sunday nights, all other suitors passed by in despair.
Ichabod was dealing with a formidable foe; a stouter man would have backed down from the competition, and a wiser man would have worried, but Ichabod possessed a happy mixture of flexibility and perseverance in his nature. He was yielding but tough, and though he bent – he never broke; he may have bowed beneath the slightest pressure, but when it was gone, he walked away with his head held high as ever.
To face his rival head on would have been madness; Brom was not a man to be thwarted. Therefore, Ichabod’s advances were smooth and subtle. He visited the farmhouse frequently as a singing instructor, but not much was gained in those visits; her meddlesome parents were quite the hurtle. Balt Van Tassel was an indulgent soul and always nearby, enjoying his pipe; he loved his daughter even more than his tobacco and spoiled her greatly. His wife was always busy with her housework but never far away. Meanwhile, Ichabod would carry on with their daughter by the spring under the great elm or walking along in the twilight hours.
I confess to not knowing how women’s hearts are won; to me, they are matters of riddle and admiration. Some seem to have only one way to win their affection while others have a thousand. It is a great triumph to gain the former, but it is an even greater victory to maintain a relationship with the latter because the man must face all types of rivals. This was certainly not the case with Brom Bones; from the moment Ichabod made advances – Brom’s interest declined. His horse was no longer seen at the farmhouse on Sunday nights, and a deadly feud gradually arose between him and the teacher.
If Brom had it his way, the matter would be solved with a duel, but Ichabod was too smart to fight when he was at a clear disadvantage. He had overheard the brute bragging that he would lay the teacher out in his own school, and Mr. Crane was careful not to give the man an opportunity. His tactics were infuriating to Brom; he and his goons were left with no choice but to waste money on pranks. They made loud noises outside his home, smoked out his schoolhouse by blocking the chimney off, and ransacked his classroom so he might blame witches. What the teacher found most annoying was being ridiculed in Katrina’s presence; the brute even trained his dog to whimper during their singing lessons.
Things went on this way for a long time without either man making progress. On one fine autumn afternoon, a pensive Ichabod watched over the students from his high stool – holding a scepter made of birch; it was a source of fear for all misbehaved children. On his desk were numerous items of contraband – everything from munched apples to pop guns. His dark mood had the children intently reading their books, and if they whispered to a friend – it was with one eye on their teacher. Class was suddenly interrupted by a dark-skinned man in old clothes; he was riding a half-wild colt with a rope instead of a halter. The stranger clambered up to the door with an invitation for Ichabod to attend a party at the Van Tassel home; after delivering his message, the visitor dashed over the brook and up the hollow – off to his next mission.
Now, everything was done quickly as the students were rushed through lessons without pause. Those who were quick-witted skipped more than half without fear of punishment while slower children were encouraged with a smack on the rear. Books were flung aside, inkstands were overturned, benches were knocked down, and school was dismissed an hour early.
Ichabod spent an extra half hour grooming and dressing; his only suit was a rusty black color, and his only mirror hung on the wall in broken shards. To make a grand entrance, he borrowed a friend’s horse and set out for the party. The animal named Gunpowder was a broken-down plow horse that had outlived everything but his viciousness. He was thin and shaggy with a head like a hammer; his hair was tangled, and one eye had lost its pupil while the other still had the devil in it. The steed’s master was the choleric Van Ripper, and some say he infused part of his own spirit into the animal; there was more of a lurking devil in him than any filly in the country.
Ichabod rode with short stirrups which brought his knees close to the pommel; his sharp elbows stuck out like grasshoppers, and he carried his whip like a scepter. As the horse jogged on, his arms resembled flapping wings; a small wool hat rested atop his nose, covering his small forehead, and the tail of his black coat flapped on the breeze as they left the property of Hans Van Ripper.
It was a fine autumn day, and the sky was clear; some trees were already nipped with frost and turning brilliant colors of orange and scarlet. Wild ducks flew in file, barking squirrels were heard from the hickory groves, and quail whistled pensively from the fields. Small birds were preparing to fly south for the winter as they fluttered and chirped from bush to bush.
As Ichabod rode slowly on his way, he enjoyed every one of these jolly sights. Apples were all around him; some still in trees, some already placed in baskets. Farther on, he passed golden ears of corn, yellow pumpkin patches, fragrant buckwheat fields, and beehives; there he fantasized of being fed delicious pancakes by his lovely Katrina. It was with those sweet thoughts he traveled along the hills overlooking the mighty Hudson as the sun gradually made its way west. The wide Tappan Zee bridge prolonged the blue shadow of the distant mountain, and a few amber clouds floated in the windless sky. A small boat lingered in the distance, dropping with the tide while her sail hung uselessly against the mast, and the sky reflected off the still waters, causing the vessel to appear as if it were floating.
It was evening when Ichabod arrived at the castle of Heer Van Tassel. Old farmers appeared with leather faces, homespun clothes, blue stockings, huge shoes, and magnificent pewter buckles; their wives wore small hats, long gowns, and homespun petticoats. The daughters were dressed almost the same way except for the occasional fine ribbon or white frock; the sons had short square-skirted coats with rows of brass buttons, and their hair cut to the fashion of the era. Brom Bones came to the gathering on his favorite steed. It was as mischievous as its master; no one else could handle the fierce horse. The man had a reputation for preferring vicious animals that could break the rider’s neck.
Inside the mansion were the charms of a genuine Dutch country tea table stacked with platters of delectable dishes, cakes, and pies; Ichabod patiently spent ample time with each dish. He was a kind, thankful man whose cheer grew in proportion with his filled stomach as some men’s do with drink. He could not help searching the room with his eyes and chuckling at the notion he might one day be the lord of such luxury. Then, he thought of how fast he would abandon the schoolhouse – snapping his fingers at Hans Van Ripper and any other who would dare call him comrade!
Old Baltus Van Tassel cheerfully visited with his guests; his attentions were brief but sincere whether it was a handshake or invitation to make oneself at home. When the music began, so did the dancing; the musician was an elderly dark-skinned man who had been performing in the area for over fifty years; he bobbed his head and stomped his feet with every note.
Ichabod was as proud of his dancing as he was his singing. To see his loose frame in full swing was like watching a Lord of Dance move about the room; not a single part of his body remained idle. Every child from the poor neighborhoods gathered at the windows, eyes wide with delight and grinning ear to ear. Katrina smiled graciously in reply to Ichabod’s lustful stares as they danced, and Brom Bones sat brooding alone in the corner – seething with jealousy. When the party ended, Mr. Crane joined the older folks who sat smoking and gossiping about the war with old Van Tassel.
There was the story of Doffue Martling, a large, blue-bearded Dutchman who almost stole a British frigate with nothing more than a gun, but it burst on his sixth shot. Then, there was a wealthy gentleman who shall remain nameless; in the Battle of White Plains, he parried a bullet with a small sword and felt it ricochet off the hilt. He was always ready to show the dent it left as proof. Many more fought equally well, but these tales were nothing compared to the ghost stories that followed; the neighborhood is rich in those treasures.
Local tales and superstitions thrive best in these secluded towns, but the cause for spooky stories in this region was Sleepy Hollow. There was something in the air that blew from that haunted place; it gave life to an atmosphere of dreams and fantasies that spread throughout the land. Several locals from the Hollow attended Van Tassel’s gathering and told the wild legends as usual. Very dismal stories were told about funeral processions and mourning cries occurring near the great tree where the unfortunate Major Andre was killed. They also mentioned the woman in white who haunts the dark glen at Raven Rock; she died there, in the snow, and is often heard screaming on winter nights before a storm. The most interesting stories, however, centered around the Headless Horseman. His patrols were heard more frequently in the past months.
The secluded church is a favorite haunt of the troubled spirits. It sits on a hill with its white walls shining through the elms. A gentle slope descends from it to a silver sheet of water surrounded by high trees – beyond which are the blue hills of the Hudson. On one side of the church is a large brook running through a wooded hollow. In the past, a wooden bridge stretched over a deep, black part of the stream; due to the overhanging trees, it and the road leading to it were gloomy even in the day, but at night, it was a frightening darkness. This was a favorite haunt for the Headless Horseman, and where he was most often encountered. Old Brouwer – a hardcore skeptic – told of how he met the horseman when returning home to Sleepy Hollow and was forced to ride behind him. They galloped over bushes, hills, and swampland until they reached the bridge; then, the horseman suddenly turned into a skeleton, and threw old Brouwer into the brook before leaping over the treetops with a clap of thunder.
This story was immediately outdone by Brom Bones who mocked the galloping Hessian as a jockey. One night, when returning from a nearby town – he was overtaken by the midnight rider and challenged him to a race; he claimed his own steed defeated the goblin horse, but as they arrived at the bridge, the Hessian vanished in a flash of fire.
These tales were always told in the same, drowsy undertone, and the listeners only nodded with polite interest, but Ichabod hung on every word. He repaid them with long excerpts from his favorite author, Cotton Mather, and added extra events that took place in his native state of Connecticut or on his nightly walks around Sleepy Hollow.
The party gradually broke up. The old farmers loaded into their wagons, and for a long time, they could be heard rattling along the Hollow’s roads. Some of the ladies mounted behind their lovers, and their light-hearted laughter echoed along the silent woodlands. Ichabod stayed behind to have a moment with Katrina, now fully convinced he was on the road to success. I do not know what was said, but something must have gone wrong; when he left, he was noticeably crestfallen. Could the girl have been at her flirty tricks? Was her encouragement all a ruse to secure her conquest of his rival? Heaven only knows! The disappointed teacher marched out the door and straight to the stable where he roughly woke his horse from slumber.
It was the witching hour when Ichabod made his way home alongside the lofty hills. Far below him, a small boat sailed quietly down the river. In the complete silence of midnight, he could even hear the dogs barking on the opposite shores of the Hudson, but it was faint. There were no signs of life near him except the occasional cricket or frog.
All the spooky tales he heard that afternoon now came to mind, and the night grew darker as clouds covered the stars. Never had he felt so dismally alone, and to make matters worse, he was approaching the place where so many of those ghost stories took place. An enormous tulip tree stood in the center of the road, high above all the others, and acted as a landmark in the area. Its limbs were the size of ordinary tree trunks, twisting down towards the ground before rising back up. Being connected to the downfall of the Hessian, it became known as Major Andre’s tree. The people regard it with a mixture of respect and superstition; partly out of sympathy for its tragic namesake, and partly from the unfortunate tales told about it.
Ichabod began to whistle as he approached this fearful tree, and – for a moment – thought it answered him, but it was only a sharp blast of wind blowing through the dry branches. As he came closer, he saw something white hanging in the tree; he paused, but upon closer inspection – it was only scorched by lightning. Suddenly, he heard a groan; his teeth chattered and his knees struck the saddle, but it was only two branches rubbing together in the breeze. He passed the tree safely, but new dangers lay before him.
Two hundred yards away, a small brook crossed the road and ran into a marshy, wooded glen known as Wiley’s swamp. A few rough logs bundled together served as a bridge over the stream. To the side – where the brook entered the forest – a group of thick oaks and chestnuts cast gloomy shadows over it. Passing this bridge was the severest trial. That is where Andre was captured after soldiers ambushed him from the grove. Ever since, the stream has been considered haunted, and every child is afraid to cross it alone at night.
As the teacher approached the bridge, his heart began to pound, but he summoned all of his courage. Urging the horse into a run, he attempted to dash across the bridge, but instead of going forward, old Gunpowder turned away. Fear increasing with the delay, Ichabod jerked on the reins and heartily kicked the animal to turn him around, but it was all in vain; his steed only plunged into a thicket of brambles on the opposite side of the road. He resorted to using his whip on the poor horse who then dashed forward – snorting angrily – but came to a sudden halt that nearly threw off his rider. At this moment a splashing by the bridge caught Ichabod’s ear. In the dark shadow of the grove, he saw something huge, misshapen, black, and towering. It did not move, but seemed to meld with the darkness – like a gigantic monster waiting to leap out at the traveler.
The teacher’s hair stood straight up with terror. What was he to do? It was too late to run away; besides, there was no chance he could outrun a ghost – not one as fast as the wind. Summoning his courage he stammered, “Who are you?” But there was no answer. He repeated his demand in an even more agitated voice, and still received no reply. Once more he kicked poor Gunpowder in the sides, and with his eyes squeezed shut, he burst into song. Just then, the shadowy figure moved, and with one giant leap, it was suddenly standing in the road. The night was dark and dismal, but it was now possible to identify the unknown form. It was a large horseman, mounted on a black, muscular steed. He did not stop to speak but kept running along the road.
Ichabod did not enjoy this strange midnight companion, and – thinking of the story Brom Bones told – spurred his horse in hopes of leaving him behind; however, the stranger sped up to match his pace. The teacher slowed to a walk in hopes of falling back, but the other did the same. His heart sank; he tried to resume singing, but his dry tongue clung to the roof of his mouth. His companion’s ominous silence was mysterious and appalling. On the next hilltop, the gigantic traveler was silhouetted in the sky, and Ichabod was horrified to see he was headless! He was even more frightened upon noticing the head was carried on the saddle’s pommel. His terror turned to desperation, and he kicked at Gunpowder hoping to escape, but the specter lunged forward as well. They raced along, stones flying and sparks flashing at every turn. Ichabod’s baggy clothes fluttered in the wind as he stretched his long body flat, over the horse’s head.
They had now reached the road which veers off to Sleepy Hollow, but Gunpowder – as if possessed – turned, plunging downhill. This road leads through a sandy hollow, shaded by trees; it crosses the bridge mentioned in the ghost stories, and just beyond is the whitewashed church atop the green hills.
For a moment, the steed’s panic appeared to give its unskilled rider an advantage in the chase, but the saddle girths came loose halfway through the hollow. Ichabod felt it sliding and seized the pommel – struggling to hold on – but his efforts were in vain; the saddle fell to the ground – trampled by his pursuer – but he managed to grab Gunpowder’s neck at the last moment. For a brief instant, the teacher dreaded Hans Van Ripper’s wrath because it was his best saddle, but this was no time for petty worries. The horseman was hot on his heels, and he was a poor rider before the added challenge of riding bare-back; he feared the high ridge of the horse’s spine would split him in half.
An opening in the trees gave him hope the church’s bridge was near. A reflection in the brook confirmed his suspicion; the church walls dimly glared under the trees beyond. He remembered that’s where Brom Bones’ ghostly competitor disappeared, and thought he would be safe if he reached the bridge. Just then, he heard the black steed snorting close behind and even felt his hot breath. With another convulsive kick in the ribs, Gunpowder sprang onto the bridge. He thundered over the reverberating planks, and looked back to see if his pursuer would vanish in a flash of fire and brimstone as the legends claimed. Instead, he witnessed the specter rising in his stirrups – preparing to throw his head at him. Ichabod tried to dodge the horrible missile, but he was too late. It crashed into his head, knocking him face-first into the dirt; Gunpowder, the black steed, and Headless Horseman passed by like a whirlwind.
The next morning, the old horse was found eating grass at his master’s gate – without a saddle – and his bridle was under his feet. Ichabod did not appear at breakfast or dinner. The boys gathered at the schoolhouse and strolled along the brook, but there was no schoolmaster. Hans Van Ripper began to feel uneasy about Ichabod and his saddle; an investigation began, and they soon found traces of his passage. The trampled saddle was in the road before the church, and the horses’ deep tracks led to the bridge. Once across, Ichabod’s hat was discovered lying near the brook – next to a shattered pumpkin.
The brook was searched, but the teacher’s body was not found. As the executor of his estate, Hans Van Ripper examined the only sack of possessions he owned; it contained clothes, a rusty razor, a worn hymnal, and a broken pitch pipe. Everything in the schoolhouse belonged to the community except for Cotton Mather’s History of Witchcraft, a New England Almanac, and a book about dreams and fortune telling. Folded inside the last was a scrap of paper filled with several fruitless attempts at love poetry dedicated to Katrina. Hans immediately burned both books and the poems, deciding his children would never go to school again; he never understood what use reading or writing could serve. Any money the teacher possessed must have been in his pockets.
The mysterious event caused much speculation at church on the following Sunday. Clusters of people gathered to gossip in the churchyard, at the bridge, and where the shattered pumpkin was found. The current circumstances were compared to the stories of Brouwer, Bones, and all the others; it was soon concluded that Ichabod was carried off by the galloping Hessian. Since he was a bachelor who didn’t owe any debts, no one worried any more about it. The school was relocated to a different corner of the hollow, and a new teacher was assigned.
An old farmer visited New York several years later, and returned with gossip that Ichabod Crane was still alive. It was said he left the neighborhood partly for fear of the Hessian and Hans; partly from shame at Katrina’s sudden dismissal. He moved across the country, studied law, was admitted to the bar, became an elected politician, wrote for newspapers, and was finally made a Court Justice. Brom Bones married Katrina shortly after his rival’s disappearance, and the way he laughed when anyone mentioned the pumpkin incident led many to believe he knew more about the matter than he admitted.
The old country wives, however, – who are the best judges in these matters – maintain Ichabod was spirited away by supernatural means; it is a favorite tale told often around the winter fires. The bridge was feared by the superstitious more than ever; in later years, the road was altered to approach the church by the millpond. The deserted schoolhouse soon fell into decay, and was rumored to be haunted by the unfortunate teacher; the plowboy sometimes claimed to hear a distant voice singing hymns on his evening walks home along the tranquil roads of Sleepy Hollow.
FOUND IN THE HANDWRITING OF MR. KNICKERBOCKER
The above tale is written almost exactly as I heard it at a corporate meeting in Manhattan where many of its most illustrious citizens were present. The narrator was a pleasant, shabby, old fellow in salt-and-pepper clothes with a sadly humorous face; he made such efforts to be entertaining – I strongly suspected was poor. When his story ended, there was much laughter and praise – particularly from the aldermen who slept for most of the time. There was one tall old gentleman with knitted eyebrows who maintained a grave and severe face throughout – sometimes folding his arms or looking at the floor as if contemplating doubts. He was one of those wary men who never laugh unless it is completely proper. When the cheers subsided and silence was restored, he leaned forward, one arm stretched high, and demanded to know the moral of the story.
The narrator – who was just taking a sip of wine – paused to look at the other man with an air of infinite deference, and lowered his glass to the table. “That there is no situation in life without its advantages and pleasures if we can take our jokes where we find them. Therefore, he who races ghostly troopers is likely to have a hard time of it. Ergo, for a country teacher to be refused the hand of a Dutch heiress is a certain step towards popularity.”
The cautious old gentleman knit his brows even closer in confusion at the extremely literal explanation while the storyteller eyed him with a triumphant leer. He observed that all of this was very well, but he thought the story a little extravagant; there were a couple points on which he had doubts.
“As to that matter, sir, I don’t believe half of it myself,” replied the storyteller.