1858 oil painting by John Quidor which shows the Headless Horseman chasing Ichabod Crane.

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is a short story by Washington Irving. It was first published in 1820 in Irving's short story collection The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. which also includes "Rip Van Winkle". "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is the longest story in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon Gent. It is based on a German folk tale, although the action is moved to New York state at the end of the 18th century. Along with "Rip Van Winkle", it is one of the few works of early American literature that is still widely read for pleasure today.


The main character in the story is Ichabod Crane, a tall, skinny, superstitious man from Connecticut who has come to the largely Dutch rural community of Sleepy Hollow to work as the local schoolteacher and to find a rich wife. He intends to marry Katrina Van Tassel, the only child of the wealthy farmer Baltus Van Tassel. However, he has to compete for Katrina's affections with the local strongman Abrahan Van Brundt, better known as Brom Bones.

One autumn evening, Ichabod Crane attends dinner at the Van Tassels' house. At the end of the evening, the other guests, including Brom Bones, begin to tell ghost stories. The tales that they most enjoy telling are about the Headless Horseman, the ghost of a German soldier who fought for the British during the American War of Independence whose head was knocked off by a cannonball. Brom Bones says that he saw the ghost the year before and challenged it to a race but the ghost disappeared when it reached the bridge by the church.

Legend of Sleepy Hollow U.S. Stamp

1974 U.S. postage stamp which depicts Ichabod Crane riding away from the Headless Horseman.

While he is riding home, Ichabod Crane sees what he thinks is the Headless Horseman. He tries to outride the ghost and reach the bridge by the church. However, before he does, the ghost throws a large round object at him which knocks him unconscious.

The next day Ichabod Crane's horse is found without a saddle but there is no sign of the schoolteacher. Later the saddle is found, next to a smashed pumpkin. Ichabod Crane is never seen again and Katrina Van Tassel marries Brom Bones. Although there are rumors that Ichabod Crane moved away and became a lawyer, most people in Sleepy Hollow believe that he was taken by the Headless Horseman and that his ghost haunts the old school house.

Towards the end of the story it is said that:

Brom Bones ... was observed to look exceedingly knowing whenever the story of Ichabod Crane was related and always burst into a hearty laugh at the mention of the pumpkin; which led some to suspect that he knew more than he chose to tell.

The implication being that the Headless Horseman was really Brom Bones in disguise.


CC No 12 Rip Van Winkle

Cover of Classic Comics #12 from June 1943 that contains adaptations of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle". Now in the public domain.

There have been numerous stage, radio, audio book, comic book, television and film adaptations of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow". The best known film adaptations of the story are from 1949 and 1999.

The story of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" made up the second part of the 1949 Walt Disney animated feature The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, the first part being an adaptation of the unrelated children's novel The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Bing Crosby performed the songs in the cartoon and also narrated the story. The cartoon features an extended sequence in which Ichabod Crane is chased by a visually impressive Headless Horseman. It seems likely that the horseman of the cartoon is intended to be a real ghost.

Tim Burton's 1999 movie Sleepy Hollow, starring Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane, Christopher Walken as the Headless Horseman and Christina Ricci as Katrina Van Tassel, bears little resemblance to Irving's original story. In the movie, Ichabod Crane is a policeman from New York City, sent to Sleepy Hollow to investigate the grisly murders attributed to the Headless Horseman. The Headless Horseman of the movie is a real ghost, under the control of Katrina Van Tassel's revenge-seeking step-mother. However, there is a scene in which Brom Bones frightens Ichabod Crane by pretending to be the Headless Horseman and throwing a jack-o-lantern at him.

Cultural impact

In 1996 the village of North Tarrytown, New York officially changed its name to Sleepy Hollow. A statue of the Headless Horseman chasing Ichabod Crane was put up there in 2006.

See also

External links

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