Washington Irving is probably best known for his spooky masterpiece “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. Set in bucolic Tarrytown, NY, it follows the story of a superstitious schoolteacher named Ichabod Crane, who vies for the hand of Katrina Van Tassel, daughter of a wealthy local farmer. Unfortunately he is in competition with Abraham “Brom Bones” Van Brunt, a local hero who continuously pranks Crane.
The story is a reminder of how ghost stories can infiltrate the mind, especially on creepy, dark evenings when one is in a bad mood. Ichabod Crane attends a party at the Van Tassel house, only to fail in wooing his 18-year-old crush. It doesn’t help that the ever-nervous Crane has spent the night listening to local legends about the Headless Horseman, and as he’s riding home he encounters a cloaked rider, and soon notices that his head seems to be in his lap. Crane flees and is never heard from again, though Brom Bones seems suspiciously knowledgeable of the night’s events, and it’s hinted at that he dressed up as the Hessian ghost to scare Crane away.
In this respect, “Sleepy Hollow” is a ghost story about ghost stories, and chilling effect they can have on the psyche. When Irving visited Tarrytown, he was taken by the town’s Dutch heritage, customs, and the abundance of myths that had ingrained themselves into local culture. He writes, “A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere.”