Sleepy Hollow

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Free History For Your Report

Sleepy Hollow

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is a famous short story in English literature, written by Washington Irving and first included in his short-story compilation, “A Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.,” published in 1820. This story, along with “Rip Van Winkle” and also included in the same composition, is among the earliest American works that are still widely read today. This fictional piece tells the story of Ichabod Crane, and is set in the quiet settlement of Sleepy Hollow, located just outside of Tarry Town, New York, a Dutch settlement. In the story, Crane, who plays a schoolmaster who is a bit on the cowardly side, goes head-to-head against the rowdy town bully, Abraham “Brom Bones” Van Brunt, for the chance to win the heart of the young fair lady Katrina Van Tassel. The plot develops one night when Crane leaves the Van Tassel household, and is pursued relentlessly by the famed Headless Horseman, who is said to be the ghost of an American Revolutionary War hero whom lost his head in a battle. The town legend of the Headless Horseman is that he rides every night in quest for his head, and is anxious to behead others in his quest. His motivations for chasing Crane, in particular, are not clear, but he succeeds in running Crane from town. Van Brunt ends up marrying Van Tassel in Crane’s absence, but was told, “to look exceedingly knowing whenever the story of Ichabod was related.”
While several key components of the story, including that of a Headless Horseman, are fictionalized, there are several elements in the story which were based on real experiences or people whom the author, Irving, had known during his life. Even though Irvine resided in Birmingham, England when he wrote the story, it was being written for a New York- based readership, and so the town of Terry Town was selected. The famous bridge in the story (the bridge where one must pass to safety to escape the Headless Horseman) was a real bridge located at The Old Dutch Burying Ground in Sleepy Hollow. It was said that Irving based Katrina on the real-life persona of Eleanor Van Tassel whom lived in the town; and that Ichabod was based upon schoolmaster Jesse Merwin in Kinderhook, New York.
Washington Irving himself has become a famed author in early American fiction, even though his parents were British; his father, William, serving in the British Navy as a petty officer. When Irving was born on April 3rd, 1783, his parents were already residing in the merchant-district of Manhattan. Apart of a large family, most of Irving’s brothers settled into the merchant business, however the entire family encouraged the apparent literary talents of young Irving. In 1804 Irving published his first literary collection, a tongue-in- cheek satire on local history and its indulgent importance, entitled, “A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty” under the name Diedrich Knickerbocker. The surname “Knickerbocker” became a popular nickname for all whom lived in Manhattan thanks to the popularity of Irving’s works.

Irving briefly began military service in 1814 after the British attacked Washington, D.C., in The War of 1812. While Irving saw military action, especially during battles taking place along The Great Lakes, the financial repercussions of the war left his family in ruins. One year later, Irving returned to England to try to resurrect the vibrant trading company his family once had established there. During his seventeen years in England, Irving became a lawyer and served as an American diplomat for Britain and Spain, and learned Spanish, German, and Dutch, among other languages. In 1815, Irving went to explore other portions of Europe, and returned to England where he penned his famous Sleepy Hollow story. Irving promptly continued writing, penning other books in the historical- fiction genre such as “The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus” (1828) and “Conquest of Grenada” (1829). Also in 1829, while serving in the US Embassy in London, Irving penned, “Tales of the Alhambra,” a collection of short stories and sketches.

In 1832 Irving returned to The United States, but began focusing on the west rather than the familiar New England territory he grew up in. This exploration to the edge of the continent led to several other fictional and sometimes non-fiction controversial works, including, “A Tour on the Prairie” (1835), about which he wrote of the Europeans’ and Americans’ mishandling of Native American interests. Irving eventually returned to Tarry Town, New York, and continued writing, and became the first author to use the now- famous term “Gotham” as a literary allusion for New York City. Gotham would later be used in pop culture in the Batman comic book series. Irving passed away on November 28, 1859, but was quoted as saying as his final words before turning into bed that night, “Well, I must arrange my pillows for another weary night! If this could only end!” Fittingly, Irving was buried in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

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