Shared from the 10/31/2021 Albany Times Union eEdition


A visit to ‘Sleepy Hollow’ author’s home spooky fun


The study at Sunnyside, the Tarrytown historic home of Washington Irving. In October, it gets a Halloween treatment.


Follow up a visit to the home of Washington Irving, at left, with a reading of Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

Photos Courtesy Historic Hudson Valley Sunnyside, the Tarrytown historic home of Washington Irving, is an appropriate day trip so close to Halloween.


Ichabod Crane’s “fearful pleasure” was to hang out with the old Dutch wives by the fire while they were spinning yarn and tales “of ghosts and goblins and haunted fields, and haunted brooks, and haunted bridges, and haunted houses, and particularly of the headless horseman, or galloping Hessian of the Hollow, as they sometimes called him.”

Every Halloween, I read a spooky classic and this year, before I reread Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” I took a ride down to his home. Sunnyside in Tarrytown is preserved so well, it’s frankly a little creepy, but in an enchanting way.

The house was playfully decorated for Halloween. There’s a collection of jack-o’- lanterns assembled in front of one of the outbuildings. A skeletal hand reached out from a curtain in the Irving’s den, fake rats on the dining table eyed the doughnuts (named by Irving, according to one of the docents) and we were warned to watch out for a giant spider that kept falling off the staircase. Outside, some robust wisteria made its way up the side of the house like some sort of sci-fi mutant plant ready to consume the house.

Irving bought the cottage and then renovated it, adding a charming mishmash of architectural styles, drawn from the Scottish, Spanish and Dutch. The house tour is a pure delight with costumed guides and a well-preserved collection of his furniture. A framed photo of Irving’s fiancé, Matilda Hoffman, who died at age 17, sits on the original piano in the living room shrouded in black. Irving never married and was said to have mourned her for the rest of his life. Irving died upstairs.

Despite the trains running right past the house periodically along the Hudson River, you feel as if you walked into a fairy tale. Irving picked this spot because he spent some time in his youth nearby escaping the yellow fever threat in New York City, where he lived, according to Historic Hudson Valley, which runs the site. When he wrote “Sleepy Hollow,” his love of the area is apparent from the opening lines: “In the bosom of one of those spacious coves which indent the eastern shore of the Hudson, at that broad expansion of the river denominated by the ancient Dutch navigators the Tappan Zee.” He continues, mentioning “Tarry Town,” which he said got the name from housewives who referred to their husbands lingering at the taverns on marketing day. Then he writes about nearby Sleepy Hollow and the small brook gliding through it. Years after writing the story, he bought the property in what is now known as “Sleepy Hollow Country."

“A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere.” I felt that a bit, wandering about the grounds of Sunnyside. Driving to the Old Dutch Church is another story. Traffic was heavy and there was a tour going on at the cemetery. I parked and walked around the church, where the horseman, beheaded by a cannonball, tethered his horse. Irving’s modest grave is just up the hill and it stands just a bit taller than the other Irvings buried around him. I eavesdropped on the tour and heard it was the third gravestone since fans used to take chips of his grave as souvenirs. Now, it’s inaccessible to the public. I drove down to a bridge over the creek, where more tourists were snapping selfies, and shuddered a little, even though it’s not the actual spot in the story where things take a turn for poor Ichabod. Maybe there’s something to this legend, I wondered.

I went home and reread the story and had a new take on it. Instead, I came away with a tale about loss, lore and Irving’s love of the Hudson Valley, which is repeated in his other works. “Rip Van Winkle” describes the “lordly Hudson” with the “reflection of a purple cloud or the sail of a lagging bark here and there sleeping on its glassy bosom, and at last losing itself in the blue highlands.” There is something magical about the area.

The ending of “Sleepy Hollow” is ambiguous. Was it actually a deadly prank by Ichabod’s competition? Or is there still a Headless Horseman lurking about Sleepy Hollow?

I’m going to side with Irving on this one: “I am therefore a ready believer in relics, legends, and local anecdotes of goblins and great men, and would advise all travellers who travel for their gratification to be the same.”

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