Did You Know? – Inspired by Washington Irving

Legend Bicentennial Banner (Illustration by Tim Grajek)

200 years ago, Washington Irving’s The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., was published serially over the course of 13 months, between 1819 and 1820 – and changed the course of American culture. The Sketch Book, as it became known, was a collection of tales that included The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and Rip Van Winkle,” among others, and its publication established Irving as Americas first internationally recognized author. Today, Irvings iconic characters of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman are recognized around the world. Visitors travel from far and wide to “Sleepy Hollow Country” to see the landmarks that inspired Irving and the landscapes he so admired. But Washington Irvings influence is even more far reaching!  

Did you know?  

  • The Headless Horseman rides again – 2019 marks the 70th Anniversary of Disney’s animated version of “The Legend,” and the 20th Anniversary of the Paramount Pictures feature, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane and Christina Ricci as Katrina Van Tassel.
  • The Knicks – Irvings fictional creation of the narrator Diedrich Knickerbocker in his early work, Diedrich Knickerbockers A History of New-York, gave birth to the description of New Yorkers as Knickerbockers,” later adopted by The New York Knicks professional basketball team. 
  • Gotham City  Irving introduced the term “Gotham” to New York, borrowing from an English folk tale, and the term soon became synonymous with the city.
  • Merry Christmas!  The four short Christmas stories in The Sketch Book, along with other writings of Washington Irving, popularized many of the Christmas customs Americans celebrate to this day.
  • Irvings namesake – Washington Irving was born near the end of the revolutionary war on April 3, 1783, and was named for General Washington. As a young boy, he met the great man himself, and would go on to write a five-volume biography of George Washington – the final work of his career and one that stood the test of time as a vital resource for future biographers.
  • Columbus Day – A prolific writer, Irving’s published works included the first English language biography of Christopher Columbus.
  • High office – Irving was appointed by President Tyler as Minister to Spain in 1842. Years earlier, he had turned down a cabinet post offered by his friend, President Martin Van Buren, as well as Tamany Halls nomination for Mayor of New York.
  • Influential friends – Irving was friends with renowned English author Sir Walter Scott and in turn influenced many American writers including James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and even Edgar Allen Poe.
  • Satirist extraordinaire  Irving was a pioneer of political and social satire – highlighting the foibles of politicians and prominent New Yorkers.
  • Local roots  Irving was born in New York City and traveled to Tarrytown and surrounding communities as a boy, soaking up tales and customs of the region.  He would return in 1835 to purchase a home along the Hudson in Tarrytown, which he called Sunnyside, where he lived for nearly 25 years until his death in 1859. Irving is buried in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.
  • Whats in a name?  In the 1600s, the cove in the vicinity of todays Sleepy Hollow was once called Slaeperingh Haven, roughly translated from the Dutch as Sleepy Harbor. Irving immortalized the name Sleepy Hollow in The Sketchbook, and today the name is famous around the globe
  • What’s in a name Part 2? – Irving borrowed the names of several characters in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” from local families whom he had met or heard of. The Van Tassel family was well known in the area and Catriena Ecker Van Tassel is resting in the Old Dutch Church burying ground. In fact, Irving’s home Sunnyside was once owned by the Van Tassel’s.
  • Stamp of approval – The U.S. postal service issued a Legend of Sleepy Hollow 10-cent stamp in 1974 illustrating the famous chase of the Headless Horseman and Ichabod Crane toward the Old Dutch Church.
  • Dont lose your head – Local rumor holds that a Hessian Soldier from the Revolutionary War period is buried in an unmarked grave at the Old Dutch Church Burying Ground. Could it be the headless horseman himself?
  • Landmark status  Local landmarks mentioned in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” that are still visible today include The Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow; the Pocantico River (including the former location of the bridge over which the Headless Horeseman is said to have pursued Ichabod); the spot where British Major Andre was captured with plans from Benedict Arnold who was seeking to betray West Point during the American Revolution.

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About the Author: Alain Begun