by Maria Ann Roglieri
According to Sara Mascia, Executive Director of The Historical Society, Inc. of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, there have always been rumors about “spooky people and spooky happenings” in our two villages. In the 18th and 19th centuries, townspeople were very superstitious, and anyone who was different was considered to be a witch. The Chronicles of Sleepy Hollow (written in the 19th century) detail a number of spooky stories from the Revolutionary War era while Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (also from the 19th century) recounts a few local ghost tales. These stories were discussed a great deal in the last century and then disappeared with the advent of TV as people turned from oral legend to television entertainment. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in our local ghost and witch stories as these stories have been dramatically narrated in The Old Dutch Church, and celebrated by self-professed witches and tourists alike, particularly around Halloween.
Below are two notable local legends other than that of the infamous Headless Horseman that, if you are relatively new to the area, you may not have heard of yet: the story of Hulda the Witch, and The Legend of Raven Rock or Spook Rock.
Hulda the Witch
Washington Irving warned in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow that Sleepy Hollow was bewitched by a “high German” doctor. According to local legend, this doctor, Hulda, was also a witch and was first seen in Sleepy Hollow in 1770. The minister of The Old Dutch Church quickly pronounced her a witch and urged the Sleepy Hollow townspeople not to associate with her. Despite this, she healed the sick by leaving baskets (that she, like many witches, had woven herself) filled with healing herbs at their doorstep. People were grateful and left her gifts at the door of her own hut at Spook Rock. Isolated from the townspeople socially, she survived by trading with the Native Americans. She died in a battle fighting the British in the Revolutionary War, and her body was found in the woods (in what is now-called Rockefeller Preserve). According to legend, soldiers originally planned to leave her body there to decompose but changed their minds and took her to Spook Rock. There they found a Bible and some gold that was willed to the widows of the soldiers who fought in the Revolution. Ultimately Hulda was buried in an unmarked grave at the north side of The Old Dutch Church.
If you would like to learn more about Hulda and witches in the Tarrytowns, you can attend the annual Festival of Witches in Sleepy Hollow (www.festivalofwitches.com). This festival was founded in 2014 by Krystal Madison, the self-proclaimed “Witch of Sleepy Hollow,” to celebrate Hulda’s life and to show locals that, according to Madison, witches are in fact real and they are here to serve the community.
The Legend of Raven or Spook Rock
There are several local ghost stories that have to do with Spook Rock, an actual rock situated on the eastern side of Rockefeller State Park, next to the Saw Mill River Parkway. The first is one found in Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow; Ichabod Crane heard it while at the home of the Van Tassels. Irving mentions a woman in white who haunts the rock and shrieks on winter nights before storm, having died there after seeking shelter from a snowstorm. The History of The Tarrytown’s also mentions this lady in white, saying her cries sound like the howling of the wind and her gestures seem to warn of drifting snow. This publication mentions two other legends: the tale of an Indian girl who roams the area lamenting her death at Spook Rock by a jealous lover, and the ghost of a colonial girl who tried to escape the sexual-harassment of a Tory raider during the revolution by jumping to her death. Another legend pertains to the story of Star Girl, a supernatural Indian woman who met a local hunter at Spook Rock and took him on as a lover, ultimately having a baby with him. A few years later, she disappeared and, as a result, her little boy refused to eat and died of starvation. The hunter buried his son in a grave by the Pocantico River, sat by the river all night crying and then disappeared himself. After three years had gone by the Star Girl returned, and searched unsuccessfully for her lover and son. It is said that even today, on a clear quiet spring night, one can stand on the banks of the Pocantico River and still hear Star Girl crying out for her lover and child.
But what about more contemporary ghost sightings and especially sightings in people’s homes? Sure enough, residents of the Tarrytown’s have come to The Historical Society to find out more about their own houses because they have heard “something strange” or have had “otherworldly feelings,” in the house. Often, they are reluctant to say more than this because they are both skeptical and afraid. According to Mascia, most of the time the house has a normal history but once in a while there are odd occurrences. Recently, residents of a house in the Tarrytown inner village came to The Historical Society complaining that they repeatedly heard the sound of someone tripping down the stairs, and saw water pooling at the top of the stairs. Research into the house’s history revealed that 80 years before, the owner of the house had slipped in a pool of water at the top of the stairs, fallen down the stairs and died. In the manors of Sleepy Hollow, meanwhile, rumors have circulated that some residents have called in professional ghostbusters to remove spirits from their homes.
Finally, in Sleepy Hollow High School, some current students wonder if a ghost is controlling the light at the top of the tower, noting that the light changes color often and randomly. Do they know about the friendly ghost of Margaret Howard next door at 200 N. Broadway (the current administration building for The Public Schools of the Tarrytown’s)? School employees have reported seeing her over the years in the upper story of the building. Do the students know about the ghost of a sad young woman who reportedly haunts the attic of the same building, having thrown herself out the window to her death when she was working in the dress factory?
What are your ghost stories of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow? Send your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy Halloween everyone!