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Updated: Jun 4, 2023

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a gothic story written by American author Washington Irving, contained in his collection of 34 essays and short stories titled The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. Written while Irving was living abroad in Birmingham, England, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was first published in 1819. Along with Irving's companion piece Rip Van Winkle, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is among the earliest examples of American fiction with enduring popularity, especially during Halloween.

The story is set in 1790 in the countryside around the Dutch settlement of Tarry Town, NY in a secluded glen known as Sleepy Hollow. The inhabitants are fascinated by the local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions on account of the mysterious occurrences and haunting atmosphere. The most infamous specter in the Hollow is the Headless Horseman. He is supposedly the ghost of a Hessian trooper whose head had been shot off by a stray cannonball during some nameless battle of the Revolution, and who rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head.




Founded around 1685, this is the church and churchyard that appear in Washington Irving’s short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It is often confused with the adjacent but separate Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

The church’s 2.5-acre burying ground is, of course, the purported haunt of the headless horseman, and also the resting place of local citizens who likely inspired Irving’s characters of Katrina Van Tassel, Brom Bones, and others in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

The Headless Horseman, said to be a decapitated Hessian soldier, may have indeed been based loosely on the discovery of just such a Jäger's headless corpse found in Sleepy Hollow after a violent skirmish, and later buried by the Van Tassel family, in an unmarked grave in the Old Dutch Burying Ground. The dénouement of the fictional tale is set at the bridge over the Pocantico River in the area of the Old Dutch Church and Burying Ground in Sleepy Hollow.

“Indeed, certain of the most authentic historians of those parts, who have been careful in collecting and collating the floating facts concerning this spectre, allege that the body of the trooper, having been buried in the church-yard, the ghost rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head; and that the rushing speed with which he sometimes passes along the Hollow, like a midnight blast, is owing to his being belated, and in a hurry to get back to the church-yard before daybreak.” ~ The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

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