‘Creepy’ Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
By K. R. |
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, which opened in 1849, is home to American writer Washington Irving’s final resting place, and the town in which it lies is the setting for one of his best known tales, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” When I visited the cemetery in early May of this year, I noticed first how beautiful it was. There were so many different trees and somber colors and many stunningly decorated, elaborate tombstones. The cemetery has beautiful mausoleums and chapels, as well as great statues of angels and other religious figures. It is extremely big, stretching over 85 acres and having over 40,000 graves, so you can take in its beauty from afar. The many hills that make up the grounds of the cemetery create a layered effect. One moment you are up at a high point and are able to look down and see all the features from a bird’s-eye perspective. The next moment you are in a glen, taking in all the beauty from there.
Located in the quiet Hudson River village of Tarrytown, New York, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is listed on both the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places. The Register commented on how the cemetery “embodies … distinctive characteristics of a type, [or] period, [and it] possesses high artistic values.” The cemetery’s most celebrated features are its natural settings, Hudson and Pocantico river views, and its rolling hills, all examples of the rural cemetery movement of the mid-nineteenth century (). As for its other features, the cemetery houses works by well-known American architects and sculptors of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Their astonishing work can be seen on numerous headstones and mausoleums. Washington Irving’s grave, the cemetery’s most famous headstone, is located in a plot reserved for him and his family. The area has a huge tree at its center and a small fence with big white letters spelling out “Irving.” While it is still a pretty nice cemetery and burial section, upon viewing his tomb, I for some reason thought it would be bigger.
Irving is a well-known American short-story writer of the early nineteenth century best remembered today for his stories set in the Hudson Valley, “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” He made his literary debut in 1802 under the pseudonym “Jonathan Oldstyle,” writing for the New York Morning Chronicle. He also wrote many biographical works on famous people like George Washington and. Irving was the first American author to receive genuine international renown and was admired by many great American writers after his death. He died in 1859, at the age of 72, in his hometown of Tarrytown, New York.
Washington Irving’s story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” is the tale of a school teacher who encounters a mysterious spirit in the town. The tale starts off by introducing us to Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow. Both towns are described as being extremely beautiful and serene places. Sleepy Hollow, however, is described almost with an air of enchantment. It was cursed or bewitched in some way by either an Indian Chief or a witch or some other being who had the power to do so. Because of this enchantment, the residents of Sleepy Hollow often see or hear weird, mysterious things. The reader then meets Ichabod, a long and slender schoolteacher who is the main character of the story. Ichabod falls in love with Katrina, the daughter of a well-off Dutch farmer. Though, speaking personally, it seems he fell more in love with her family’s belongings. Katrina is a known “Flirt” and has many suitors, but Ichabod believes he has become her number-one crush and is fairly confident she will marry him over Brom, who is his most prominent rival. But one night Ichabod is disappointed and rejected by Katrina and runs off. This is when he meets the Headless Horseman. Terrified, Ichabod gallops away from him on horseback and is never seen again in town.
The Legend of the Headless Horseman, set in this quiet hamlet of New York, reminds me of another legend I heard in Mexico. Often times, and especially in small towns, it is said that the devil rides around at night on horseback. My grandfather once told my sisters and me a story of this sort. He said he was very drunk one night and was walking back home. While walking, he saw an abnormally large and strong pitch-black horse with bright red eyes. Once he saw this horse he knew it meant no good. Suddenly a man appeared on the horse’s back, and my grandfather claims it was the devil. He said he was so scared that he stumbled back and fell down and closed his eyes. But when he opened them the devil and his horse were still there. Almost paralyzed with fear, my grandfather got up and tried to walk past the horse but the horse would not let him. My grandfather closed his eyes again and began praying and when he opened his eyes the second time the horse and the man were both gone. I bring this up because I think it is interesting how a tale written by a great American writer has similarities with a tale from Puebla, Mexico. It is known that Irving got most of his inspiration for “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” from a German fairytale. So there must be a similar story threatening horsed devils in at least three different countries, having very different histories and cultural traditions. In Ichabod’s case, he fled the town never to be seen again. My grandfather however, prayed and the mysterious horse and man disappeared. One of the differences that allowed these alternate endings is culture: Mexicans are very big on God and religion, and I think subconsciously my grandfather’s story became a testimony of the power of faith. In Ichabod’s case, no appeal to God is made and we never learn the final whereabouts of our beloved protagonist.
While the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is clearly fiction, its descriptions of the town still ring true to life today. My sister accompanied me on my visit to the cemetery, and as we were leaving, I began reading the tale to her. I noticed in Irving’s story many of the details of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, the Hudson and Tappan Zee, the Dutch churches, the hills—all of this. This correspondence between place and fiction created a weird, almost déjà vu feeling. Even the feeling that is said to revolve around Sleepy Hollow, the air of enchantment, as I put it above, still sort of rings true. At least for my sister, anyway, who was scared for most of the time she was there. It was our first time visiting a cemetery and maybe that was why she was nervous (and, honestly, so was I a bit). Most trips or outings with my sister are fun but, on this one in particular, I’m really glad she accompanied me because she was more scared than I was and made the whole experience a bit more realistic and truer to Irving’s story . She kept thinking that she heard voices and that a crow was following us. I thought this was funny because in Irving’s tale the residents often heard weird and unexplainable noises. Of course when I told her this, she freaked out even more. However, we enjoyed the cemetery so much—even though we got lost, were scared, and dealt with gloomy weather (which we didn’t mind so much because it was almost perfect cemetery weather)—that we have decided to go back to for one of the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery tours, which they hold on Sundays.
“The Original Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in New York.” Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Web. 30 May 2016. <http://www.sleepyhollowcemetery.org/>.
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving.” Web. 30 May 2016. <http://www.gutenberg.org/files/41/41-h/41-h.htm>.
“Washington Irving.” Bio.com. A&E Networks Television. Web. 30 May 2016. <http://www.biography.com/people/washington-irving-9350087>.