by Barbara Moroch –
Okay, we all know that Sleepy Hollow is the Halloween Capital of the World, but just how much do you know about the legends and lore that have fueled its reputation? Here are some little-known facts about the area we call home that just may surprise you:
1. Ichabod Crane, Fact or Fiction? Both! The character figures prominently in Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but Irving took his inspiration for the character (not to mention the name) from an Army captain serving in Irving’s regiment.
2. Paranormal Activity on Parade: A British ghost investigator by the name of Dean James Maynard visited the Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow area in the summer of 2005 and dubbed it “the most haunted place in the world.” Wonder why? Read on!
3. Sunnyside Hauntings: Washington Irving’s residence is open to visitors, where tour guides in period costume lead them through rooms of original furnishings. But there’s a case to be made for the original inhabitants as well. Apparitions have been spotted engaged in various tasks, such as Irving’s nieces playing in the bedrooms and the house staff tidying up the home. Many even claim to have seen Irving himself!
4. “The Apparition in White”: Sybil Harris King was the daughter of Benjamin Newton Duke, co-founder of the American Tobacco Company. Although she died in 1955, her spirit may just live on — as she has been heard pacing up and down the second-floor hallways of King House, on the grounds of the Tarrytown House Estate and Conference Center.
5. Name Dropper: Besides setting the stage for all things spooky in our area, here are a couple of things you might not know about Washington Irving. He’s named after George Washington and was present at the first presidential inauguration in 1789, and the phrase “the almighty dollar” was coined by him.
6. It’s Witchcraft! Hulda the Witch, who came to this area from Bohemia in the 1770s, was shunned from the community when the minister of The Old Dutch Church declared her a witch and forbade anyone from contacting her. The ol’ gal had a knack for creating healing potions and for being a great shot — firing on British troops with deadly accuracy during the American Revolution. After killing many redcoats, she fell mortally wounded. Later, her neighbors discovered a will in her home in which she left all of her money and possessions to the widows of patriots who died during the war. She is buried at the Old Dutch Burying Ground in Sleepy Hollow.
7. Losing His Head: Traditional folklore holds that the Horseman was a Hessian artilleryman who was killed during the Battle of White Plains in 1776. He was decapitated by an American cannonball, and the shattered remains of his head were left on the battlefield while his comrades hastily carried his body away. Eventually they buried him in the cemetery of the Old Dutch Church, from which each Halloween night he rises as a malevolent ghost, furiously seeking his lost head.
8. Soldier Poet: Revolutionary War Major John André was a British Army officer hanged as a spy during the Revolutionary War for aiding Benedict Arnold’s attempted surrender of the fort at West Point. Angry with both the Americans for denying his request to be executed by firing squad and the British for refusing an offer of exchange for Benedict Arnold, he died in a rage. His ghost is said to roam Patriot’s Park, where he can be heard reciting a poem he penned that was published in the local gazette on the day he was captured. In the poem, he wrote, “What hero could refuse to tread the rugged path to fame.”
9. Chills in the Church: The Church of St. Barnabas, a stone Gothic Revival near Sunnyside, is allegedly haunted by some of its occupants from the 19th century, the church pastor and his family. The wife can sometimes be seen knitting in a rocking chair, and children play in the hallways. In the year 2000, when a group of men were installing a new organ, they claim to have seen the ghost of the Reverend himself — William McVickar.
10. Two in One: It looks like Sleepy Hollow has one large cemetery, but it’s actually two and is owned and maintained as two separate entities. There’s the Old Dutch Burying Ground, which is on the grounds of the Old Dutch Church; and there’s Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, which surrounds the Old Dutch property. The people Washington Irving used as his inspiration are located in the Old Dutch Burying Grounds. Irving himself and many other illustrious people are located in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. The two cemeteries together comprise about 88 acres.