Celebrating “The Legend” Bicentennial: What Washington Irving Means to Me

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by Maureen Petry, Director, Warner Library

As a young child, I went on a class trip to Washington Irving’s home Sunnyside.  We were shown the 1922 black and white film The Headless Horseman: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It was one of those silent films with jerky movements and bubbles and static appearing as you watched it.  Still we were all mesmerized and scared, and here we were at the home of the man who thought it up and wrote it down. It was hard to fathom what inspired him to write that story after I toured the very proper and old fashioned house filled with doilies, satiny pillows and candlesticks. It struck me at seven years old that Washington Irving must have a very good imagination! And so it began: my love of authors and books.

As exciting as that discovery was, the story that spoke most to me as I grew up was Rip Van Winkle. Spending most of my childhood in a quiet neighborhood far from town, I felt very much like Rip, sleeping while very important things were happening in the world beyond me.  Rip slept through the Revolution; I watched from afar as young people protested in the streets, attended huge mud soaked concerts, women sought new rights, and very late one night a man landed on the moon.  How wonderful it is to be here 50 years later very much a part of the world to celebrate the bicentennial of these stories and share them with a new generation of readers.

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