Imagine. Two horses approach Sleepy Hollow Bridge at a thunderous gallop. No doubt the first horse, Gunpowder, is on his last legs. He’s hardly fit enough for a trot. Now he catches his rider’s terror, and gallops as if the very devil is behind him.
The second horse is sleek and muscular. His hooves pound the ground as they approach the first horse. Astride the black horse is an accomplished horseman.
In front, Ichabod Crane urges Gunpowder to a faster pace. Ichabod believes his pursuer will disappear at the bridge, but when Ichabod turns his head to look behind him, the unknown rider has his head in his hand. The rider pulls his arm back and throws it at his quarry.
The head strikes Ichabod who falls off his horse. Gunpowder, no doubt delighted to be free, makes his way home. But where is Ichabod? He doesn’t show up for breakfast or dinner. Most unusual. Gunpowder’s owner, Hans Van Ripper, organizes a search party, partly because he wants to find Gunpowder’s saddle.
On the road leading to the church, searchers find a trampled saddle. Further on, there are tracks of horses’ hooves. And at a broad part of the brook, they discover Ichabod’s hat and a shattered pumpkin. The searchers scratch their heads at Ichabod’s disappearance and go home.
Van Ripper inventories Ichabod’s possessions: “They [consist] of two shirts and a half; two stocks for the neck; a pair or two of worsted stockings; an old pair of corduroy small-clothes; a rusty razor; a book of psalm tunes full of dog’s-ears; and a broken pitch-pipe.”
Villagers discuss Ichabod’s disappearance at church the following Sunday. “gazers and gossips … [collect] in the churchyard, at the bridge, and at the spot where the hat and pumpkin had been found.” They consider all the stories they know along with the found evidence, and conclude the Headless Horseman took Ichabod to an unknown destination. And that was that.
Or Was It?
Katrina quickly recovers from her suitor’s disappearance and marries Brom Bones. Brom laughs whenever anyone mentions a pumpkin. A few folks think he knows something about Ichabod’s disappearance. But they don’t ask, and Brom doesn’t tell.
Several years later, a farmer visits New York City. He comes home with the startling news that Ichabod Crane survives. The farmer says Ichabod ran away, because he was afraid the Horseman might come back for him, and was embarrassed after Katrina’s rejection. Ichabod found a new position as a schoolmaster until he became a lawyer, and then a politician, before becoming a judge in a lower court known as the Ten Pound Court. If so, one can only applaud Ichabod’s ability to reinvent himself. Yet the tale seems too unlikely to be true.
So, what really happened? The old country wives … who are the best judges of these matters, maintain to this day that Ichabod was spirited away by supernatural means. Ichabod’s disappearance is a favorite story often told about the neighborhood round the winter evening fire.
Sight-Seeing at Sleepy Hollow
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is popular near Halloween, and Sleepy Hollow, New York has plenty of events to commemorate Ichabod’s wild ride. The village has festivals, hayrides, parades, and tours, including an afternoon visit to author Washington Irving’s home at Sunnyside that includes a literature-themed scavenger hunt. The Sleepy Hollow Cemetery also has tours, including the evening lantern tour. The Old Dutch Church that Ichabod was trying to reach by crossing the bridge has self-guided visits. And, of course, there are re-enactments of the fateful ride. One actor said the most difficult aspect of playing the Headless Horseman is balancing the pumpkin in one hand before throwing it.
If you’d like to take a virtual tour of modern Sleepy Hollow with clips from movie versions of the Legend, check out this 10 minute video.
Sleepy Hollow. 1884.
Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane by John Quidor
Jack-o-Lantern by Achat1999
Sleepy Hollow Sunday Morning
Welcome to Sleepy Hollow sign photographed by Chris Kirkman.
Ross D. Levi. “A Fall Weekend in Sleepy Hollow NY.” I Love New York. Aug 15, 2019.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Gutenberg Project.
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.