Sleepy Hollow, NY has More than Just a Headless Horseman

   Ichabod Crane,   William Wilgus, 1856.

Ichabod Crane, William Wilgus, 1856.

Sleep Hollow, New York was made famous by Washington Irving in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Irving visited the area in 1798, nearly 130 years after it was formally settled in 1664. Sleepy Hollow did (and still does) have a reputation for hauntings. In Irving’s fictional story, he says of Sleepy Hollow that “a drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere.” While the village has remained small in size (a population of approximately 10,000), its cultural value extends beyond its infamous story. 

 Sleep Hollow's Upper Mills area seems like a painting that has come to life. Courtesy of  Daderot .

Sleep Hollow's Upper Mills area seems like a painting that has come to life. Courtesy of Daderot.

Irving’s tale is just one of many notable works that earned him credit as the first American author to have international renown. After a prolific literary career, he was buried at the Sleep Hollow Cemetery in 1859. In his final resting place, he is surrounded by a plethora of American movers and shakers including Andrew Carnegie, members of the Astor and Rockefeller families, makeup legend Elizabeth Arden, and New York Times founder George Jones, among many other writers, politicians and artists. The Rockefeller family has a large presence in the area, with a series of mansions, one of which is currently on the market for $22 million. Their biggest manse, Kykuit, sits at a choice spot on its 3,400 acres.

 Like everything else in Sleep Hollow, the cemetery has an air of traditional Americana, with archetypal headstones that are stunningly classic. Courtesy of  James P. Fisher

Like everything else in Sleep Hollow, the cemetery has an air of traditional Americana, with archetypal headstones that are stunningly classic. Courtesy of James P. Fisher

Needless to say, much of this picturesque region plays a significant role in American history, starting with its Dutch occupancy in the early 1600’s. Even the headless horseman is rumored to have been inspired by a Hessian soldier in the Revolutionary War who was decapitated and buried in the Sleepy Hollow burying ground. Sleepy Hollow is part of the Hudson River Valley, which of course was a major setting for crucial battles of the Revolutionary War. It was also the inspiration for The Hudson River School, a major artistic movement of painters who depicted the region’s lush scenery. The entire valley is still the stomping ground of artists, politicians, and wealthy American aristocracy. But around Halloween, it’s the 400-year-old village of Sleepy Hollow that gets the most attention. Its ghostly sightings can now be explained by thick evening fog or wildlife activity, but perhaps a few of the souls from the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery enjoy the area too much to stay at rest. 

 The Hudson River School's aesthetic is exemplified beautifully in this painting by Asher Brown Durand.

The Hudson River School's aesthetic is exemplified beautifully in this painting by Asher Brown Durand.