The Real History Of Sleepy Hollow: How Much 'The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow' Ties Into The Series
Sleepy Hollow returns on Fox on Thursday, and if you are a die-hard fan, you probably already know that the show's writers are not strangers to using real historical facts and spinning them to include Ichabod Crane's involvement throughout the series.
There are lots of 18th-century references, from the Boston Tea Party to Benjamin Franklin's interest in electricity and lightning, but of course the whole premise of the show is based on the folktale about the Headless Horseman.
You might assume that the TV series is based on the 1999 Tim Burton movie starring Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci of the same name, but true Sleepyheads know the series is actually based on Washington Irving's 1819 short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Let's take a look at the "real" story of Sleepy Hollow, and how much the short story ties into the series.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow takes place on the eastern shore of the Hudson River valley in New York, in a town Irving writes is about three miles from Tarrytown. The town called Sleepy Hollow was given its name by its original Dutch settlers for its dreary atmosphere and supernatural occurrences surrounding witches and other ghouls, and this story features one in particular—the Headless Horseman. As the legend goes, he is a Hessian solider sometimes referred to as the "Galloping Hessian of the Hollow," and is a ghost without a head that rides around on horseback only at night.
The story's protagonist is Ichabod Crane, the local school teacher, who enjoys singing and is a great dancer and a master of Cotton Mather's History of New England Witchcraft.
"He was tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together ... one might have mistaken him for the genius of famine descending upon the earth, or some scarecrow eloped from a cornfield," Irving writes, quite a difference from the charmingly handsome Tom Mison.
Looking to court the rich and beautiful Dutchess Katrina Van Tassel, Crane attends a party at the Van Tassel mansion that is attended by the entire town. The townsfolk share ghost stories late in the evening about the Horseman who often lurks in the churchyard cemetery before calling it a night.
Crane then goes to pursue Katrina, who refuses his advances (she instead ends up with Crane's nemesis Brom "Bones" Van Brunt—who claims to have beaten the Horseman in terms of speed while riding), which leaves him heading back home brokenhearted on the old and evil-looking horse borrowed from farmer Hans Van Ripper.
But as Crane reaches the bridge, the Headless Horseman appears, causing him to attempt to race away as fear rushes over him. "Just then he saw the goblin rising in his stirrups, and in the very act of hurling his heat at him," Irving writes.
Van Ripper's horse returns the next day, but there is no sign of Crane. When he doesn't show up for class, the townsfolk begin to worry. They discover the saddle that belonged to Van Ripper's horse along with a smashed pumpkin, but Crane never appears. We never know exactly what happen to him, leaving his fate up to the reader's imagination. However, according to Dutch wives, Crane was "spirited away by supernatural means."
The True Story of Sleepy Hollow
But is there truth to this ghost story? Irving writes that the story was based off a folklore he heard about the ghost of a Hessian solider from the Revolutionary War who was beheaded in battle and who continued to haunt the town. But this was not just some old war ghost story passed down. Instead, it is believed that the tale of the Horseman originally came from Dutch settlers who would tell the story of the Wild Huntsman, the German ghost who would chase people down in the woods.
It is believed that the town of Sleepy Hollow was based on the town of Kinderhook, N.Y., but interestingly enough, the village of North Tarrytown renamed itself to Sleepy Hollow in 1996. Historically, there even was a real Ichabod Crane. The namesake Crane was born in New Jersey in 1787 and was a solider who later was stationed in New York. Irving met the solider, the name sticking with him because it sounded like a schoolteacher's name. Crane in the short story was actually based on a schoolmaster Irving became friends with when he was in Kinderhook.
The Legend vs. The Series
Warning! Series spoiler in this section!
After reading the short story, we know that the series is only loosely based on Irving's tale. While the Fox series does use the Headless Horseman as the former Hessian solider who haunts and chases his victims during moonlit nights, the writers morphed this character with that of Brom Bones. In the series, Katrina's former fiancé Abraham (Katrina's soon-to-be husband in the short story) is the Horseman. The series also added the apocalyptic aspect of the character, as he is also the Horseman of Death.
Katrina in the series is a witch, a trait that was added into Burton's film as well, although we know Irving didn't write her this way. Crane also never marries her like he wishes to in the short story, although he has in the series. Katrina is the character that is later killed off (but not by the Horseman!) in the series.
Then, of course, there are more obvious differences, like the series being set in the present, the addition of many different supernatural entities, the end of days storyline, and, of course, the addition of new characters like the beloved Abbie Mills. Irving's short story and the legend itself are just a small piece of the larger pie that we can't wait to continue to dig into.
Watch Mills and Crane take on the Horseman (who will be written off this season!) and other dark forces when Sleepy Hollow returns to Fox Thursday, Oct. 1, at 9 p.m. EDT.
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