The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow May Belong In The Non-Fiction Section
A historian captivated by Washington Irving’s classic tale about Ichabod Crane and the headless horseman uncovered reason to believe Irving’s story was rooted in reality.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was an instant hit after it was penned in 1820. The creepy tale about a peculiar school teacher being chased around Sleepy Hollow by a headless horseman is a Halloween favorite. It has been adapted into silent films, Disney cartoons, and horror movies.
As the story goes, Ichabod Crane is the school teacher in 1790s Sleepy Hollow, a town in New York. While at the party, Crane and the other attendees share ghost stories and local legends, which spooked the already-superstitious Crane. One of the stories was that of a headless horseman who chased people through the woods, only stopping if the victims could cross a certain bridge.
In addition to the party and the ghost stories, Crane had plans to propose to a local woman that night, but she turned him down. The dejected man left the party that night on his horse, Gunpowder, to return to the old farmhouse he was staying in.
As he rode through the path in the woods, he came to an intersection where he saw the headless horseman on a jet-black steed with his own head cradled in his lap. The horseman gave chase, eventually hurling his severed head at the school teacher. The next morning, the townspeople found Crane’s horse and a damaged saddle but no sign of the man. In the story, Washington Irving implies one of the party guests was playing a joke on Crane, and the spooked teacher left town without realizing it had just been a prank.
The creepy story, however, may have roots in true events.
In 2011, a historian and folklore enthusiast in Irvington, New York, began looking into the origins of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
As Jonathan Kruk researched the story, he tried to corroborate some of Irving’s details. In the story, the headless horseman was apparently a Hessian soldier who died in a battle during the American Revolution. Hessians were Germans who assisted the British in their attempts to bring the rebellious colonies back under the control of the Crown.
Kruk looked into records from the revolution and found that there actually was a battle near Sleepy Hollow where American, British, and Hessian soldiers were all involved in a firefight with cannons. Furthermore, Kruk found the diary of an American general, William Heath.
Heath, who was at the battle, wrote of seeing a cannon sever the head of a Hessian soldier as they fought. There was enough information in the journal for Kruk to find the grave of the Hessian soldier
He lies in a cemetery, not far from where the fictional Ichabod Crane is said to have encountered a very real specter.
See more about the legend on Mysteries at the Museum, available now on discovery+.