By Jeri Westerson
I read this story many years ago now. The story was published in 1820, but is set in 1790 when the country was new. Set in the mythical town of Sleepy Hollow near the Dutch settlement of Tarry Town, New York, the stage is set for a creepy tale with the town's own legend. The Headless Horseman is supposed to be the ghost of a Hessian soldier who got his head blown off by a cannonball. But is this a real legend or is it trumped up by Brom Bones to scare off his rival the school teacher Ichabod Crane? In any case, Ichabod is trying to propose to Katrina, the only child of
Though thought of as a strictly American tale, it has its roots in European tales of the supernatural, of a ghostly chase, and even a headless horseman. German ghost stories seemed fond of featuring headless horsemen of varying kinds, usually a "huntsman" riding about the countryside dispatching those of loose morals. Even J.K. Rowling alludes to this in one of her Harry Potter books when the ghost Nearly Headless Nick bemoans the fact that he cannot join the headless hunt (he's not headless enough). Irving was in Europe at the time he wrote The Sketch Book, a group of short stories in which "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" was included.
I know the story and cartoon influenced my childhood and the things I liked to read. It's a very moody piece. It's still influencing me now. In fact, my new urban fantasy series, THE BOOKE OF THE HIDDEN, is based in a small New England town with ghostly things happening. Oh yes. And I set it in the fall.
And then there was the ill-fated movie version with Johnny Depp. The less said about that the better.
Here is a link to the Disney cartoon with the song "You Can't Reason With A Headless Man" where Brom Bones relates the story of the Headless Horseman.
And here's the end of the chase. Happy Halloween!