In honor of Halloween, I’m sharing Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow this month. It’s about more than a wild horseback ride in the dead of night. Last week we met Ichabod Crane, a man of unfortunate appearance and few prospects. Nevertheless, Ichabod persevered in his quest for a comfortable life.
Ichabod set his matrimonial sights on Katrina Van Tassel, a student in his singing class. She was a blooming lass of fresh eighteen; plump as a partridge; ripe and melting and rosy-cheeked as one of her father’s peaches, and universally famed, not merely for her beauty, but her vast expectations. Katrina was also the only child of a wealthy farmer. Ichabod dreamed of a sumptuous family life with Katrina by his side.
Whenever Ichabod walked over to Heer Van Tassel’s farmhouse, he couldn’t help but notice the vast barn, that might have served for a church; every window and crevice of which seemed bursting forth with the treasures of the farm.
Sleek unwieldy porkers were grunting in the repose and abundance of their pens, from whence sallied forth, now and then, troops of sucking pigs, as if to snuff the air.
A stately squadron of snowy geese were riding in an adjoining pond, convoying whole fleets of ducks; regiments of turkeys were gobbling through the farmyard.
Ichabod’s mouth watered in anticipation of the feast these creatures could provide. In his devouring mind’s eye, he pictured to himself every roasting-pig running about with a pudding in his belly, and an apple in his mouth . . . . In the porkers he saw carved out the future sleek side of bacon, and juicy relishing ham; not a turkey but he beheld daintily trussed up, with its gizzard under its wing.
In short, Ichabod lusted after every creature and crop on the Van Tassel farm. Consequently, when Ichabod rolled his eyes over the fat meadows and rich fields, his heart yearned after the damsel who was to inherit these domains.
And then there was the farmhouse itself, and its furnished parlor where claw-footed chairs and dark mahogany tables shone like mirrors; andirons, with their accompanying shovel and tongs, glistened from their covert of asparagus tops . . .and a corner cupboard, knowingly left open, displayed immense treasures of old silver and well-mended china.
One might wonder what Katrina wants. The pretty eighteen-year-old has an indulgent father who probably grants her every request. She enjoys attention from every male in the area; married or single, young or old. Many suitors have a respectable amount of property and family status. All flatter Katrina for her beauty and skill. She probably enjoys playing them off against each other. She’s no doubt attracted by the town “bad boy” Brom Van Brunt, if only because he pretends to be unaffected by her wiles.
Ichabod Woos Katrina
Ichabod exhibits surprising self-confidence in wooing Katrina. He is sure his education, erudition, singing voice, and dancing ability outshines all other suitors, including Brom Van Brunt. Katrina hasn’t given Ichabod her exclusive attention, but she hasn’t rejected him either. Could Katrina be playing one suitor off against another? Such a thought doesn’t cross Ichabod’s mind when he accepts the invitation to a quilting-frolic at the Van Tassel farm.
Ichabod carefully prepares for the evening. In order to cut a more attractive figure, he borrows a horse named Gunpowder. The horse is gaunt and shagged, with a ewe neck, and a head like a hammer; his rusty mane and tail [are] tangled and knotted with burs; one eye [has] lost its pupil, and [is] glaring and spectral, but the other [has] the gleam of a genuine devil in it.
Mounting his steed, Ichabod rides with short stirrups, which [bring] his knees nearly up to the pommel of the saddle; his sharp elbows [stick] out like grasshoppers’ . . . and as his horse [jogs] on, the motion of his arms [is] not unlike the flapping of a pair of wings. In short, Ichabod won’t win Katrina by looking good in the saddle.
Brom rides up to the Van Tassel farm on Daredevil, a black, muscular horse no one else can ride. No doubt, Brom galloped up to the house with Daredevil’s tail streaming in their wake. Everyone admires Brom’s equestrian prowess and the beauty of sweating Daredevil.
Upon entering the mansion’s hall, Ichabod immediately goes to the refreshment table to indulge in all manner of delectable dishes, in keeping with fall harvest season. There’s ham, smoked beef, and roasted chickens; dessert offerings of cakes [sweet, short, ginger, or honey] and pies [apple, peach, or pumpkin]. Ichabod chews his food with the expectation that once he marries Katrina, he’ll eat like this every day. In the next room, musicians tune up for dancing. Ichabod puts down his empty plate and prepares to woo Katrina on the dance floor.
You might think that after such a meal, Ichabod would be too sluggish to dance. Not so. In fact, Ichabod prided himself on his dancing ability, easily leading Katrina through the steps. For her part, Katrina felt nearly everyone’s eyes follow her graceful movements—everyone except Brom who stands off to the side clenching his jaw.
Tales of Ghosts & The Headless Horseman
When the dancing ends, Ichabod joins guests telling each other legends and ghost stories. Soon attention turns to the Headless Horseman who had been heard several times of late, patrolling the country; and, it was said, tethered his horse nightly among the graves in the churchyard. No doubt, Ichabod felt a delicious shiver up his spine.
There was the story of old Brouwer, a most heretical disbeliever in ghosts, how he met the Horseman returning from his foray into Sleepy Hollow, and was obliged to [mount] behind him; how they galloped over bush and brake, over hill and swamp, until they reached the bridge; when the Horseman suddenly turned into a skeleton, threw old Brouwer into the brook, and sprang away over the tree-tops with a clap of thunder. Listeners drop their jaws, imagining Bouwer’s encounter.
Brom stands the floor, and tells the credulous crowd he knows for a fact that the Headless Horseman is nothing but a jockey. To prove his point, Brom tells the group that one night while returning from the neighboring village, he encountered the midnight trooper on the road. Holding his audience’s attention, Brom says he challenged the horseman to a race. The loser would pay for a bowl of punch. The two horsemen set off at a gallop. Brom claims, Daredevil beat the goblin horse all hollow. But they never finished the race. Just as they came to the church bridge, the Hessian bolted, and vanished in a flash of fire. The room falls silent. Brom raced the Hessian devil and won! Katrina looks at Brom, her blue eyes wide with admiration.
Well, Ichabod thought, Brom isn’t the only one to defeat the supernatural. Ichabod stands to get the audience’s attention and shares his experiences walking home on dark nights. Ichabod admits he hasn’t seen the Headless Horseman, but swears he knows about ghostly figures who accost innocent travelers. Guests finish their drinks and tap the ashes out of their pipes. They rise and stretch. The party breaks up. Brom mounts Daredevil and gallops away to unknown late-night pursuits.
With Brom out of the way, Ichabod looks for Katrina. Perhaps, he thinks, she’ll accept me as a serious suitor. Ichabod finds his beloved. Perhaps he takes her hand and begins to declare his love. Ichabod emerges from the house a short time later with a desolate expression. Did Katrina laugh at Ichabod’s wooing? Did she use him to make Brom jealous? Ichabod doesn’t say anything as he walks to the stable. The spurned suitor saddles Gunpowder, mounts, and begins the long journey home.
‘It was the very witching time of night.’
Roast Turkey by Mark Miller
Canada Geese by Rhododendrites
Old Dutch Farmhouse 1906
Jumping Black Stallion by Deathfly0
Ichabod Crane and Katrina by Daniel Huntington
Ichabod Crane Imagining the Phantom by Frederick Simpson Coburn
Courtship in Sleepy Hollow by John Rogers.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Gutenberg Project.
Jacqueline Smith. “Halloween History: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” New York Historical Society. Oct. 25, 2013.
Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.
Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.