In the third episode of our series: Legends and Lore of the Empire State, A New York Minute In History explores the inspirations behind Washington Irving’s “Headless Horseman” and “Ichabod Crane.”
The Village of Sleepy Hollow lies along the eastern banks of the Hudson River about 25 miles north of New York City. If you know anything about this village, chances are it has something to do with Washington Irving’s early 19th century classic tale, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The story follows a lanky, superstitious school teacher in his unsuccessful attempt to woo the daughter of a wealthy Dutchmen and his subsequent disappearance. Placed along Broadway in the Village of Sleepy Hollow on the edge of a beautiful cemetery, where the author himself rests eternal, a red and gold marker depicts another longtime resident of the burial ground. It reads:
TETHERS HIS HORSE NIGHTLY
AMONG GRAVES IN THIS
CHURCHYARD ACCORDING TO
‘THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW’
AUTHOR WASHINGTON IRVING
NEW YORK FOLKLORE
WILLIAM G. POMEROY FOUNDATION 2019
If you drive north from Sleepy Hollow about one hundred miles, you will find yourself in Columbia County in the Village of Kinderhook. Located along Route 9H is a small white school house owned by the Columbia County Historical Society. This building is known as the “Ichabod Crane School House” and a familiar red and gold marker near the building tells us why. It reads:
WASHINGTON IRVING BASED THE
CHARACTER ICHABOD CRANE IN
THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW
ON KINDERHOOK SCHOOL
TEACHER JESSE MERWIN.
NEW YORK FOLKLORE SOCIETY
WILLIAM G. POMEROY FOUNDATION 2017
So what’s the story behind “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and Washington Irving’s connection to a few places in the Hudson Valley? Where did he find his inspiration for the schoolhouse, the infamous bridge, and other locations mentioned in this ghost story? And who did Irving use as inspiration for his story’s main character, Ichabod Crane? Co-hosts Devin Lander and Lauren Roberts explore this mystery on the third episode of our series: Legends and Lore of the Empire State.
Thanks to Jim Logan, Superintendent of the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, and Laurie Yarotsky, Executive Director of the Columbia County Historical Society, for their help in telling these stories.
Original music for this episode was provided by Sean Riley.
A New York Minute In History is a podcast about the history of New York and the unique tales of New Yorkers. It is hosted by Devin Lander, the New York State Historian, and Saratoga County Historian Lauren Roberts. WAMC’s Jim Levulis is the producer. A New York Minute In History is a production of the New York State Museum, WAMC Northeast Public Radio and Archivist Media.
Support for this podcast comes from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation®, which helps people celebrate their community’s history by providing grants for historic markers and plaques. Since 2006, the Foundation has expanded from one to six different signage grant programs, and funded nearly 1,000 signs across New York State and beyond … all the way to Alaska! With all these options, there’s never been a better time to apply.
The Foundation’s programs in the Empire State include commemorating national women’s suffrage, historic canals, sites on the National Register of Historic Places, New York State’s history, and folklore and legends. Grants are available to 501(c)(3) organizations, nonprofit academic institutions, and municipalities. To apply for signage at no cost to you, or to learn more about the Foundation’s grant programs, visit WGPfoundation.org.
This program is also funded in part by Humanities New York with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this podcast do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.