I went to Sleepy Hollow with my little boy this year. Washington Irving’s ancient home, nestled beside the great Hudson River where he wrote his legend two hundred years ago. We walked the ancient paths where once the old horse Gunpowder rode; through the old Dutch church where a panicked Ichabod directed his last ill-fated gallop; beside the trees and the river where the condemned English spy John Andre was apprehended.
We heard the story told; smelled the trees in fall and walked through the graveyard at midnight past names like Rockefeller and Carnegie to the family plot of the Irvings where lies the bones of America’s greatest writer. And we bought a copy of the story. A writer hopes to change the world with his words. Hopes to be read and reread until he becomes as much a part of the land as is the tree that grows above his grave. On this account Washington Irving could not have done better. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” has become as much a part of the fabric of American consciousness as any story told. The fearful lanky schoolmaster; the lovely Katrina Van Tassel – Brom Bones, the culprit, or was he?
“Good writing conquers all” I have been told. And most novelists and writers have one masterpiece in them: everything else being just ok. Except modern writers like Stephen King or Dan Brown who churn out mediocrity at a startling rate thereby making their names. With his short story about the hollow where he lived and walked; about the village of Tarrytown which he loved so much and of the ancient legends that occupied that secluded knoll Washington Irving became immortal. And well deserved. I bought a copy of “The Legend” in the bookstore by Sunnyside, Irving’s ancestral home. It is more powerful when you can imagine the streams and the hills and the trees as he eloquently describes them. The glory of New York Hudson in its adolescence, full of promise and purpose. And during Halloween – because Irving’s legend has become entwined in our imaginations with the holiday itself, thereby guaranteeing itself an audience as long as children run from house to house with buckets full of sweets in the hopes of a fright.
On my tour of Sunnyside, the guide asked “Who here has read the legend” and out of the twenty people walking only I raised my hand. So my exhortation, read the story – don’t let Hollywood tell it for you, read the voice of Ichabod as told to us by Irving. Only then does the story truly live. And visit sleepy hollow – the town that is known for the story, and thus has guaranteed their livelihood for two centuries.