Washington Irving’s Sunnyside: The Making of a Legend

Washington Irving’s Sunnyside: The Making of a Legend

By. D. Cruz |

Originally hailing from New York City, Washington Irving moved to Tarrytown in 1835 when yellow fever spread and it was unsafe to stay in the city. In the years ahead, Washington Irving began to refurbish the two-story cottage located at 3 West Sunnyside Lane. After returning froma diplomatic mission in Spain, he found out that there would be a railroad built beside his home and that the railroad dust would turn his pond water stagnant. Despite this inconvenience, Irving made Sunnyside his permanent home for him and his guests. The tower to the side was for the servants. During the tour I made of Sunnyside in October, the house had a calm and quiet atmosphere, although a train would pass by every now and then to interrupt this calmness.

One of Irving’s best-loved stories is set in the town where he lived. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” centers around a teacher by the name of Ichabod Crane who falls for the young and beautiful Katrina Van Tassel. Though he knows Katrina has another suitor, Brom Bones, Ichabod still wants to win her heart and does so in secret. Ichabod loves to listen to the Old Dutch people of the town, who gather together to recount stories and gossip. The Headless Horseman tale is the most popular. The Old Dutch villagers say that at night the Headless Horseman rides through town on his horse while carrying his head around with him and that he disappears with the clap of thunder and a flash of fire. One night Ichabod is chased by the Headless Horseman, and when he believes he is about to be free of him, the Horseman throws his head at Ichabod, leaving him unconscious. The next day the villagers notice that Ichabod has gone missing when his horse appears alone. All that is left behind is his hat and a smashed pumpkin. Years later, a farmer turns up in Sleepy Hollow and tells the townspeople that Ichabod is still alive and working elsewhere as a lawyer.

The parlor room at Sunny side recalls this short story. While the guide spoke of how Irving would have his guests over, and how they would dance, talk, and play games, I imagined the characters Irving wrote about in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” doing the same. As I thought about the connections between the parlor and the story, I could not help but stare at the figurine of Ichabod and Katrina sitting together on a bench. It was placed on a coffee table in the center of the room.

The sources for Irving’s “Legend” were the rumors and tales surrounding a Headless Horseman, believed to be buried in the cemetery of the Old Dutch Church. A decapitated Hessian corpse had been exhumed, and the tale grew up around this rumor. Washington Irving used many pen names when publishing his short stories. Dierdrich Knickerbocker, which was his favorite, has become a widely-known name among New Yorkers. According to LitCharts, he “used the persona of Knickerbocker in these stories, as an elderly, eccentric chronicler of Dutch history who insists upon the accuracy of his tales.” In “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” Knickerbocker is the narrator who recounts the story of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman. He writes that though the Headless Horseman is said to carry his head around, other say that rides to the scene of the battle in search of his head. Irving was inspired to use “local names and details, adding an air of authenticity to his telling” (“Irving’s Legend”). He had met a soldier by the name of Ichabod Crane in the War of 1812 at Fort Pike, on whom he based the main character of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Though the character is not a soldier, nor does he have the makings of a soldier, Irving represented the real Crane by using his name.

There is a $12 entrance fee to take a tour of this historical estate; however, the public only have access to Irving’s study, dining room, parlor room, and kitchen. As a special treat, the guides talk about how Irving used each room while dressed up in 19th-century attire. For lovers of Irving’s tales, it is a wonderful experience to see how Sunnyside brings his characters to life through portraits and figurines. In Sunnyside’s kitchen, various versions of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” are set up to show how widely known it has become. The various versions included graphic novels, movies, TV shows, and even a Sleepy Hollow cereal box, and fruit snacks. Seriously!

Works Cited

Biography.com Editors. “Washing Irving Biography.” The Biography.com Website. A&E Television Networks, October 20, 2015. October 15, 2016. www.biography.com/people/washington-irving-9350087#profile

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Washington Irving: American Author.” Encyclopedia Britannica. October 15, 2016. www.britannica.com/biography/Washington-Irving

Irving, Washington. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Jose Menendez. E-Book. 1819. www.ibiblio.org/ebooks/Irving/Sleepy/Irving_Sleepy.pdf

“Irving’s ‘Legend’: The Story Behind the Story.” Historic Hudson Valley. September 9, 2015. October 15, 2015. www.hudsonvalley.org/community/blogs/irvings-legend-story-behind-story

Janes, DeAnna. “The Truth Behind the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The Lineup. October 2, 2015. October 15, 2016. www.the-line-up.com/legend-of-sleepy-hollow/

LitCharts. “Diedrich Knickerbocker: Character Analysis.” December 16, 2016. http://www.litcharts.com/lit/the-legend-of-sleepy-hollow/characters/diedrich-knickerbocker

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