“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is a short story that was published in 1820 by American author Washington Irving. The story was originally included in a collection of his essays and short stories called “The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent”. The story was a standout in the collection and has since been adapted many, many times in film, television, plays, musicals, and audio dramas. The story became such a hit that almost 200 years after it’s publication, the New York town of North Tarrytown, where much of the stories action takes place, voted to change their name to Sleepy Hollow. The high school teams are called “The Horsemen” and a large statue of the Headless Horseman from the story now resides in the town.
The short story tells the tale of a small town schoolmaster named Ichabod Crane who attempts to woo a beautiful young heiress named Katrina Van Tassel. Ichabod is opposed in this by a rival for the ladies affection, a man named Brom Van Brunt. Ichabod loves to hear ghost stories and learns of a local legend, a headless horseman who is supposed to ride through the town at night looking for his disembodied head.
One night, Ichabod is invited to the Van Tassel’s farm for a party. While there he confesses his feelings to Katrina and she rejects him. Disappointed, he leaves to head back home and stumbles across a nightmare on the way. The Headless Horseman leaps out of the town’s legends and chases Ichabod down. Eventually, the horseman vanishes but not before throwing his decapitated head at Ichabod, knocking the man off his horse.
The next morning, Ichabod’s horse is found and the town searches for him. When he is not found, the superstitious townspeople assume that he has been taken by the Horseman. However, Brom finds this tale a little too amusing and it is implied that he dressed up as the Horseman to frighten Ichabod into leaving. It works, and Ichabod has never seen in the town again.
The story begins in the small town of Sleepy Hollow. It is a quiet town, between the Tappan Zee and Hudson rivers and a very small market town named Tarry Town. The narrator of the story tells us that everyone in Sleepy Hollow is, as the name would suggest, dreamy and sleepy at all times. The narrator tells us that this may be because of a curse or a spell. Sleepy Hollow, we’re told, has it’s fair share of curses, superstitions, legends and odd happenings. The town’s most prominent legend is that of a horseman who rides around the town by night with no head on his shoulders. The horseman is believed to be a Hessian soldier left over from the Revolutionary War. The townspeople believe that he may be searching for his head as he is often seen rushing throughout the town. The horseman is referred to by the people as The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.
By day, the town has its small pieces of normalcy. The schoolmaster, Ichabod Crane is a man newly arrived from Connecticut. He is a tough schoolmaster, believing in punishing children who act up by beating them with a rod. However, he’s not without mercy and he only uses the rod on children that he feels can bear it. The weaker students are treated with much more patience. Ichabod’s students admire him greatly and, due to the custom of the time he prevails upon one student’s family per week for room and board as his pay is too little to keep a house of his own.
Ichabod keeps very few possessions and does his best to be useful in the homes that he stays in, often helping on farms and always being agreeable. Ichabod is also the singing master of the town and makes some extra money doing this. He is considered one of the most intelligent men in Sleepy Hollow, second only to the town’s parson. Because of this, many of the town’s women find themselves lusting after Ichabod and wanting him for a husband. Ichabod does much reading. He is most interested in the book “History of New England Witchcraft” by Cotton Mather, the parson from the town of Salem, Massachusetts who presided over the famous Salem witch trials. Because of his interest in this book Ichabod considers himself a firm believer in the supernatural. He often spends so long reading frightening stories at the school that he must sing psalms to himself on his walk home so that he is not afraid of the dark. He also greatly enjoys the story of the Headless Horseman and listening to the local housewives tell the story.
Katrina Van Tassel is one of Ichabod’s singing pupils and eighteen-year-old known throughout the area for her families wealth and her incredible beauty. Katrina is the daughter of a very wealthy farmer and entertains many suitors looking to make her their wife. Ichabod finds himself falling completely in love with Katrina as he is taken in by her charms and impressed by her father’s wealth. He decides that he must marry her. However, Katrina has other suitors who are rivals for her affection. Among them, a man named Brom Van Brunt is the largest threat to Ichabod. Brom is a troublemaker, a loud and rowdy man known in the town for his feats of strength and heroic actions. He is well respected and liked throughout the town. Many of Katrina’s other suitors have given up the competition for her hand in marriage because of the threat of Brom.
However, Ichabod is not daunted by Brom overall. He does court Katrina more secretively so that the other man will be less likely to hear about it. This is made easier for Ichabod because he is able to court Katrina while performing as her singing teacher. Katrina’s parents do not notice how Ichabod acts toward her. Katrina returns the affections of both men and a rivalry develops between them quickly. Brom challenges Ichabod to a physical challenge but Ichabod refuses, well aware that he would obviously lose. Brom becomes frustrated by the refusal and begins to play practical jokes on Ichabod in front of Katrina in order to diminish him in her eyes.
For some time, the conflict between these two men continues with wins on both sides. One day, a messenger comes to invite Ichabod to a dinner at the Von Tassel’s farm. He sends his students home early so that he may prepare for the party. Ichabod decides to wear his best (and only) suit, borrows an old, unused horse from the farmer that he is currently staying with and rides out to the Von Tassel’s farm. The horse, named Gunpowder, is aged and somewhat sickly but still tough and ready for a fight.Ichabod arrives safely at the party. Many prominent farmers from the area are there with their wives. Brom is also there with his risky horse, Daredevil.
Ichabod arrives safely at the party. Many prominent farmers from the area are there with their wives. Brom is also there with his risky horse, Daredevil. Ichabod eats everything in sight at the dinner and dances much of the night away with Katrina. Brom can only look on at the two, jealously. After the dancing has ended, Ichabod begins to chat with some of the older men about ghost stories. The Headless Horseman is brought up, among other local legends. Brom tells his own story of encountering the Headless Horseman. He says that he offered to race the specter for a bowl of punch. Ichabod does not believe this but does not interrupt.
Late into the night, the party disbands. Ichabod stays on after everyone leaves to speak with Katrina. The narrator says that they do not know what happens in this conversation, but that Ichabod leaves the house looking disappointed and that the reader must use their imagination to fill in the gaps. It is to be assumed that Katrina was only using him to make herself sure of Brom’s affection for her. Ichabod sets off for home on his old horse during the darkest hour of the night.
As he rides, he begins to remember all of the ghost stories that he heard that night. He begins to get more and more uncomfortable and frightened as he approaches Sleepy Hollow’s church, the area where the Headless Horseman is said to frequent most. He makes it past the church, but when he comes to the bridge over a nearby stream his horse suddenly stops. Across the stream, Ichabod spies a tall, dark shape that he cannot identify. Frightened, he calls out to ask who it is. There is no answer and Gunpowder still does not move. Ichabod starts to nervously sing a psalm. The figure, a large horseman, suddenly springs into motion. He rides alongside Ichabod without saying anything. Ichabod tries to speed up and lose him, but the horseman matches his pace easily.
When the two go through a patch of moonlight, Ichabod realizes that the horseman is headless. His decapitated head is resting on the saddle in front of him. Panicking, Ichabod tries to lose the horseman again by bolting forward. However, this only spooks his horse and Gunpowder accidentally veers in the wrong direction from Sleepy Hollow – toward the old church. Ichabod’s saddle slips as he is racing away and he begins to fall only managed to stay on by grabbing Gunpowder’s neck. They approach the church and Ichabod recalls that the horseman is supposed to vanish at this point from the tales that he has heard. He does, but as he does the specter stands on his stirrups and launches his head at Ichabod. The head hits Ichabod and knocks him from his horse.
The next day, Gunpowder shows up back home at the Van Ripper farm. However, Ichabod is not with him. The schoolmaster does not show up for dinner that day and Hans Van Ripper becomes so worried that he insists on sending out a search party. They find many hoof prints and eventually find Ichabod’s hat discarded next to a smashed in pumpkin. They still do not find Ichabod. The townspeople assume that he was taken off by the Headless Horseman and since he was not in any debt in the town, they decide to worry no more about it. Some of the townspeople assume that Ichabod merely left the town out of shame of losing Katrina. Brom is especially delighted to hear the news of his rivals disappearance and finds the tale very amusing, especially the smashed pumpkin part. Soon, Katrina and Brom marry. The school house falls into disrepair and the townspeople assume that it is haunted by Ichabod’s ghost.
Ichabod Crane – the main character of the story. Ichabod is the schoolmaster and singing teacher of Sleepy Hollow, newly arrived from Connecticut. He is very tall and thin, with the large appetite and a greedy personality. He has no qualms about ending his workday early to go to the party at the Van Tassel farm. However, he is mostly kind to his students and uses the rod to discipline only the tougher ones. Ichabod enjoys superstitions and ghost stories very much and likes to talk to the townspeople about the Headless Horseman tale although it frightens him. Ichabod decides to marry Katrina mostly because of her money, thus showing his greed. But he also seems to love her as well. He is an excellent dancer, a scholar and one of the smartest men in town.
Katrina Van Tassel – the heroine of the story. Katrina is a wealthy farmer’s daughter and an incredibly beautiful young woman who is sought after by many of the eligible men in town. Katrina is an insatiable flirt and enjoys the men seeking her attention greatly. She is mainly courted by Brom Van Brunt, who eventually becomes her husband. However, Ichabod attempts to woo her and ultimately fails, leaving him open to his imagination to frighten him in the woods.
Brom Van Brunt – Ichabod’s love rival. A tall, good-looking man who is very strong and known in the town for his heroic nature. The town has given him the nickname Brom Bones. He is an especially skilled horse rider and is mischievous but ultimately a good person. It is heavily implied that the Headless Horseman is actually Brom in disguise.
Baltus Van Tassel – Katrina’s father. A wealthy farmer who is thriving in his business. Baltus is content on his farm if perhaps a little naive. He does not watch Katrina as closely as he perhaps ought to. But he is still a good father to her and not a boastful or proud man although he has a reason to be.
Hans Van Ripper – an older farmer that own the farm that Ichabod stays at on his last night in Sleepy Hollow. Hans is kindly enough that he not only lends Ichabod a horse for the Van Tassel dinner, but he also organizes a search party when he fears that the schoolmaster has gone missing. However, he gives up when they townspeople do.
Washington Irving Biography
Washington Irving was an American writer and the first U.S. Author to achieve international renown. He was the creator of such fictional characters as Ichabod Crane and Rip Van Winkle. Irving was born on April 30th, 1738 in New York City. He went to private schools and studied law. After graduation, he served in several law offices. Because of his health, he traveled across the Europe from 1804 to 1806, when he was eventually admitted to the bar.
But his interest in law wasn’t deep. It wasn’t long-lasting either. At that time, he began to write and send satirical essays and sketches to New York newspapers. A group of these pieces, written from 1802 to 1803 and collected under the title, “Letters of Jonathan Oldstyle”, Gent’ won for Irving his earliest literary recognition. From 1807 to 1808 he was the leading figure in a social group that included his brother William Irving (1766-1821) and Peter Irving (1771-1838) and his brother-in-law, James Kirke Paulding. Together they wrote “Salmagundi or, The Whim-Whams and Opinions of Launcelot Langstaff, Esq. and others”. This was a series of satirical essays and poems on New York society. Irving’s contributions to this miscellany established his reputation as an essayist and his wit. This reputation was enhanced bu his next work, “A History of New York” (1809), ostensibly written by Irving’s famous comic creation, the Dutch-American scholar Diedrich Knickerbocker.
In 1815, Irving went to Liverpool, England as a silent partner in his brother’s commercial firm. After a series of losses, the business soon went under and Irving returned to writing. It was in England that he wrote “The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent”, which contained one of his most famous works, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”.
From 1826 to 1829 he was a member of the staff of the US legation in Madrid, Spain. It was during this period that he wrote several historical works.
In 1832, after an absence of 17 years, Irving returned to the US where he was welcomed as a figure of national importance. In 1846, he settled at Sunnyside, his country home near Tarrytown, NY. There he remained until his death in November of 1859 at age 76. He was buried in Sleepy Hollow cemetery.