Real Places Behind Famously Frightening Stories- page 2 | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
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Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. (Kevin Fleming / Corbis)

Real Places Behind Famously Frightening Stories

Discover old haunts that inspired thrills and chills in fiction and film

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," The Sketch Book, Washington Irving

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
(Kevin Fleming / Corbis)
Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.

New York’s Hudson River Valley was the backdrop for “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” one of the earliest examples of ghost stories in American literature. Irving, a native New Yorker, relied on local landmarks and the lore about them handed down from Dutch settlers who arrived some 200 years before the story was published in 1820.

The real action in “Legend” begins in what is now called Patriots Park; a monument marks the site where in 1780 three men captured British spy Major John Andre beneath a tulip tree. The bad vibes from the event lingered, according to Irving, and it was not far from the “fearful tree” that the hapless Ichabod Crane first saw “something huge, misshapen, black, and towering.” That something of course was the infamous headless Hessian who chased Crane to the Old Dutch Church.

The church still stands, amidst the small graveyard where Irving’s ghostly Hessian soldier, would tether his black steed to the headstones. The writer himself is buried in the adjacent Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, which offers tours of the real sites behind the legend.

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