Historical Research


The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the Opera, was created after meticulous research into the original story by Washington Irving and the history of the people and area in which the story takes place.

Sleepy Hollow was originally the name of an area slightly north and west of Tarrytown, New York, Located about 30 miles north of New York City (see map). Sleepy Hollow was a simple farming village.

The Tarrytown area was predominantly a Dutch community, retaining much of their Dutch ways.

The name “Sleepy Hollow” was derived from a depression leading down to the widest part of the Hudson River, known to the Dutch as the “Tappan Zee” because of its huge expanse ("Zee" is the Dutch word for "sea"). 

The Old Dutch Church and its graveyard still exist, located in Sleepy Hollow. In the graveyard can be found stones 
with the names found Irving's Book and the Opera, including members of the Van Tassle family.

Located near the church was a special section of woods deemed to be the home of their ancestors. The mores of the time allowed people to go visiting in the woods and even hunting. No overnight stays were permitted, and only respectful behavior was condoned here. 

However, a specter was believed to have moved into these woods sometime shortly after 1850. The specter was a headless horseman from the River Styx, and riding on a powerful horse. Interestingly, other “headless horsemen” are found in European beliefs over the previous thousand years. Fearsome things, they killed or maimed people using their head as a weapon.

An incident occurred in the sacred woods of Sleepy Hollow in 1790 which gave rise to the famous book, “The Legend
of Sleepy Hollow,” by Washington Irving. Irving, involved with publishing and writing ventures in New York, came to Tarrytown about 1796 for several months. He heard of the incident and learned that the residents truly believed what they were telling him. 

Eventually Irving moved to England where he wrote “The Sketchbook of Geoffrey 
Crayon” in 1819, a collection of short stories. It was so successful that he wrote another collection the following year, this time harkening back 30 years prior to his Knickerbocker days by including the “Rip Van Winkle” story and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The story was an immediate sensation both in England and America.

Several people of the era claimed to have actually encountered the specter. Katrina’s boyfriend, Brom Bones, (real name thought to be Abraham Van Brunt) claimed to have outrun it on horseback on time on his own powerful horse, Daredevil. 

Also, “Old Brouwer,” referred to by name in Irving’s book, claimed to have been swept up by it when he was a young man in the mid-18th century. He said that he had been a doubter of its existence until one day in the woods it appeared from nowhere, threw him on the back of its horse, and rode hell-bent for the Pocantico bridge on the edge of the woods. Brouwer ended up on the ground and the horseman raised a fist, then disappeared in a blast of lightning which turned it into a skeleton. 

Although many of the names used in Irving’s book are either accurate or very close to real names from the era, the name of “Ichabod Crane” is not. The Tarrytown residents brought in an outsider to teach the school children and also be of assistance with their music. This person’s name was either Jesse Merwin or Samuel Youngs. Washington Irving didn’t use this name, rather choosing the name of Ichabod Crane to become the character in his book. 

A real person named Ichabod Crane did indeed exist, but he had nothing to do with Tarrytown or the Sleepy Hollow area. He lived on Long Island and had previously been an officer in the Revolutionary War. Mr. Crane had no idea his name would become forever known as the one who disappeared at the hands of a monster in the night up by Sleepy Hollow.

Washington Irving wished to be buried in the cemetery at the church in Sleepy Hollow, the village he made famous
through his short story.  His grave is still clearly visible.