The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

A pleasing land of drowsy head it was

Of dreams that wave before the half-shut eye;

And of gay castles in the clouds that pass,

For ever flushing round a summer sky.

“The Castle of Indolence” by James Thomson, epigraph from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

While my niece decimated  an enormous pile of  bronzed leaves this autumn, around the time of Hallowe’en,  I distracted myself from the thought of raking them all up again with the dreamy imagery and descriptive passages I found in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving. We were not all that far away from the setting of that story–on the eastern banks of the Hudson River–so, I imagined the scenery was much the same.

Unfortunately, a trip to Sleepy Hollow (to confirm) is out of the question right now. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow takes place in “one of the quietest places in the whole world,” which I was certainly not in at the time, and in a “remote period of American history,”  but, this illustration from a copy of the story, that I later found at The Osborne Collection, looks a lot like the scene I was standing in:

It also added the element of sailing to this new daydream of mine though, and I like that much better than the idea of an eight hour car ride.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow  was meant to be somewhat of a daydream kind of story, from what I can tell by reading it. It opens with a long description of the setting, a magical place, “under the sway of some witching power, that holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie.”

I knew I would find great illustrations in the books I looked at in The Osborne Collection, and I was not disappointed. I have included photos of two of the copies they have available to view because they are so different but the illustrations were both gorgeous and reflect the imaginative tone of the story itself.

The photo above, and immediately below comes from a copy printed in 1906, with illustrations by, Arthur Ignatius Keller:

The second edition I looked at was published in 1926. It has beautiful drawings by Frances Brundage:

I have not yet shared this particular story with my niece. It was Halloween while I was visiting with her, so a ghost-story may have been in order, but she only recently turned 3 years old and her eyes still light up with surprise when anyone else seems to know the secret of “trick-or-treat.” So, it is a little too soon, but I look forward to sharing it with her someday.

It is a great ghost-story: it was found among the papers of a dead man and set in a bewitched location where anything might happen. At the same time, it makes reference to “most authentic historians,” and the Revolutionary War. The Headless Horseman is believed to be the ghost of a Hessian Soldier, “whose head had been carried away by a cannon ball.”

Ichabod Crane, a schoolteacher and singing instructor moves to Sleepy Hollow from Connecticut. Tall and lanky, he moves from house to house, gossiping with housewives and flirting with the young women in town. He especially likes listening to the women tell local ghost stories, which is how he comes to hear the story of the headless horseman.

Crane has hopes of marrying one of his singing students, Katrina Van Tassel. She is eighteen years old, beautiful, and charming, but Crane is particularly interested in her because her father is wealthy and he especially likes the food at her house. Brom Bones is also courting Katrina and he would like to fight Crane for the right to court her exclusively. Crane refuses to fight, so Bones resorts to playing practical jokes on him.

One night, Mr. Van Tassel hosts a party for everyone in the village. Crane spends the night eating and swapping ghost stories with his neighbours. Before he leaves, he approaches Katrina to ask for her hand in marriage. No one knows what was said, but Crane leaves the party that night looking dejected.

“It was the very witching time of night” that Crane began his ride home alone. Along the way he sees a large shadowy figure on horseback and he can just make out the shape of a head on the pommel of the saddle. Crane races away on his own horse, Gunpowder, but he is chased and knocked unconscious. The last thing he remembers is the sight of the rider about to throw the head at him.

Crane is not seen in the village again. A search party finds his belongings on the road, beside a smashed pumpkin. With his rival out of the way, Brom Bones marries Katrina and Crane becomes a character in one of his favourite Sleepy Hollow ghost stories.

My summary does no justice to the descriptive passages in the story. You can read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow online at Project Gutenberg.  Or, you could go to The Osborne Collection to see a much more charming edition of the story.

All photos were taken at The Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books, Toronto Public Library, from:

1. Irving, Washington. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1906.Illustrations by Arthur Ignatius Keller. Presented to the Osborne Collection by Tony Hall.

2. Irving, Washington. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. New York: The Salfield Publishing Company, 1926.  Illustrations by  Frances Brundage. Presented to the Osborne Collection from the estate of Erica McClocklin.


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