By W. B. King
Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow’s favorite literary son, Washington Irving, once said: “Sweet is the memory of distant friends! Like the mellow rays of the departing sun, it falls tenderly, yet sadly, on the heart.”
For the approximately 15,000 tourists who visit the famed Sleepy Hollow Cemetery to pay respects to Irving and other well-known interred “residents” like Andrew Carnegie, Walter Chrysler, William Rockefeller and Elizabeth Arden, there is indeed a sense of “sweet memory.” And these remembrances aren’t solely for the famous, but for all the dearly departed who are laid to rest on the beatific grounds.
“Visitors come from all over the world,” said Sleepy Hollow Cemetery’s Director of Visitor Services and Sales, Christina Orban-La Salle. “A lot of famous historical figures are buried here—from titans of industry to writers to painters—and a visit here is a wonderful way to bring history back to life.”
“Washington Irving, and the Delavan family plot, with its gorgeous statuary, are among the most popular sites to visit,” said Orban-La Salle, who added that in 2009 the cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “The wooden bridge that spans the Pocantico River is particularly charming. There is a nice bench there for all to enjoy. In the autumn, with the leaves changing, it is very pretty.”
While the cemetery is steeped in rich history due to its many renowned grave sites, more than 45,000 people have been buried at the cemetery to date, with approximately 200 new interments each year.
“Sleepy Hollow Cemetery continues to offer families a variety of options including green burial, the community mausoleum for those who prefer above-ground placement, along with traditional in-ground burial for caskets or cremation urns,” said Orban-La Salle.
The Legend Continues
If not for Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” the popularity of the cemetery and the village, which incorporated from North Tarrytown to Sleepy Hollow in 1996, would likely be downplayed.
Irving, who published the tale in 1820, wrote: “A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere.” For those familiar with the book and the surrounding areas, the pages of the “legend” can come to life.
“It is amazing that you can retrace the steps of Ichabod Crane’s flight from the Headless Horseman through Tarrytown all the way to the Old Dutch Church and identify the local landmarks Irving included in the story even today,” said Orban-La Salle. “There’s a reason Irving’s tale has never been out of print since it was published in 1820 – it’s a wonderful story!”
To maintain both the historic grave sites and the thousands of plots populated by local loved ones, Orban-La Salle explained that 10 people work at the cemetery full-time, which includes six grounds crew, three office employees and Superintendent Jim Logan. During busy times of the year, such as the Halloween season, part-time guides are hired to lead tours.
“The lovely sculptures, great natural beauty of the grounds and the incredible history of the cemetery makes it a very rewarding place to come every day,” said Orban-La Salle. “Despite the challenges of assisting people at what is usually the worst moment of their lives, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is a wonderful place to work.”