Each year as Halloween approaches, I think back on an October trip in 2014 that Lady Jane and I took. The trip took us to some terrific places, including north of the border to Quebec City, through much of Vermont and on into the Empire State to prove to ourselves than New York is a whole lot more than the most populous city in the United States, New York City.
The New York phase of the trip included time spent on the deepest of blue waters of Lake George, the rustic beauty of the Adirondacks, the history of Cooperstown’s National Baseball Hall of Fame, the serenity of Lake Placid and the joy of discovery, a hidden gem called the Ausable Chasm — a stunning sandstone gorge near the small town of Keeseville.
However, as Halloween arrives each year those New York sights aren’t what predominates in my memory. Rather, it was our day spent in a village just thirty miles from the skyscrapers of Manhattan off the east bank of the Hudson River, a village made famous by the author considered America’s first great storyteller, Washington Irving.
For centuries the town was incorporated under the name North Tarrytown. That is, until 1996 when the village name was changed to Sleepy Hollow, a name recognized throughout the world thanks to Irving’s tale “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” What Frankenmuth, Michigan, is to Christmas; Plymouth, Massachusetts, is to Thanksgiving; and Cooperstown, New York, is to baseball, Sleepy Hollow is to Halloween.
As former English teachers, Jane and I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit Irving’s village. While Irving was actually born in New York City and also lived abroad for seventeen years, he did spend his final years just down the road from what was then North Tarrytown and is actually buried in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.
During our day and evening in Sleepy Hollow, we saw how seamlessly Sleepy Hollow blends into Tarrytown right by Patriots Park where North Broadway turns into South Broadway. Since it was mid-October, there was an abundance of Halloween decorations throughout the adjoining villages.
It was a Friday. There was early release at the Sleepy Hollow Schools, and we saw a sign in front of the high school announcing the Homecoming football game that would be played Saturday afternoon. That explained all the boys who were walking around the park with football jerseys bearing the school’s nickname, The Horsemen, on the front. How appropriate a school nickname we thought, an homage to Irving’s Headless Horseman who so bedeviled that lanky schoolteacher Ichabod Crane.
Our tour of Irving’s former estate called Sunnyside, overlooking the Hudson, was interesting. Irving purchased the cottage and surrounding estate in 1835 and added on to it over the 25 years he lived there before suffering a fatal heart attack in his bedroom in 1859.
Jane and I next visited the Old Dutch Church, fully operational going all the way back two decades before the Revolutionary War. The church, while not affiliated with the cemetery, is just adjacent to it.
There are several recognizable people besides Irving buried in this cemetery, and if you’re the type that likes to find the deceased and the famous folks’ resting spots and want to find Irving’s grave, I warn you. Do it early in the day. The cemetery closes at 4:30 pm for some odd reason. Jane and I know this, since we were chased out by the caretaker before we found Irving’s grave.
That evening, we had two after-dark activities planned. One was at the surrounding property of the 300-year-old Philipsburg Manor, once upon a colonial time, a thriving farm center owned by the Anglo-Dutch Philips family. It was truly a Friday night for fright after we purchased our tickets to go through what was called The Horsemen’s Hollow. This took Jane and me through a trail that included frightening settings and scenarios in a town driven insane by the Headless Horseman. The actors and actresses were costumed in Hollywood-worthy fashion, and the special effects were, to say the least, unsettling.
Although I’m usually not the kind to seek out fright, I wasn’t about to visit an area said to be the most haunted in the country and not take the trail. What was most unsettling was the fact that while some of the figures we saw shrouded were inanimate, others were the actors and actresses who would suddenly shriek and move suddenly toward us.
A final event took us back the Old Dutch Church for a 10 p.m. dramatic reading of Irving’s Headless Horseman tale by professional storyteller Jonathan Kruk. What was most impressive is Kruk did not work with a script, having committed the entire short story to memory. Accompanying Kruk was a man with the appropriate name of Jim Keyes, who added flourishes on a pipe organ.
Despite the eight years that have passed with Jane and me having traveled many places both domestically and abroad, we still reflect back on our October trip to a village just over the massive cantilever Tappan Zee Bridge on the east bank of the Hudson River where Halloween is perhaps even more important than the bellwether holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at [email protected]