From the listless repose of the place, and the peculiar character of its inhabitants, who are descendants from the original Dutch settlers, this sequestered glen has long been known by name of Sleepy Hollow … A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere.
— Washington Irving, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”
Historically, the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, also known as the Dutch Reformed Church, is the oldest existing church in New York. Together with its two-and-a-half-acre colonial-era burying ground, served as the inspiration for Washington Irving’s popular short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
Published in 1820, it is the first story written by an American to achieve universal acclaim. The story is widely read still today, and the subject of over a half dozen famous films.
It tells the story of Ichabod Crane, a superstitious schoolmaster from Connecticut who competes with Abraham Van Brunt, a local Dutch-American, known as “Brom Bones” for the hand of Katrina Van Tassel, daughter of a “substantial Dutch farmer”. After an autumn “frolic”, schoolmaster Crane mysteriously disappears. Many claimed Ichabod was driven off by the galloping headless ghost of a Hessian trooper who got decapitated by a cannonball during the American Revolutionary War. Brom, however, looked “exceedingly knowing whenever the story of Ichabod was related.” So, the author leaves the reader wondering if the goblin chased off the schoolmaster, or could it have been Van Brunt?
Story apart, founded in 1685, the church is among the oldest in the United States and still has an active congregation. Its construction began around 1682 by a lord of a huge manor in the lower Hudson Valley, Frederick Philipse. His lordship was built with the church thick walls, composed of local fieldstone. A carpenter by trade, he built the pulpit himself and now lies buried with thirteen family members under the church floorboards.
The Friends of the Old Dutch Church and Burying Ground, a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization, maintains and preserves the site, named a National Historic Landmark in 1961. Today, the church is owned by the Reformed Church of the Tarrytowns and still used for summer services and on Easter and Christmas Eve.
Adjacent to the church’s grounds, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, was founded in 1849, and there are nearly 45,000 interments in its 90 acres.
Famous burials include Washington Irving himself, Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, the founder of Chrysler corporation Walter Chrysler, Samuel Gompers, Elizabeth Arden, businesswoman Leona Helmsley, philanthropist Brooke Astor, U.S. Representative from New York and mayor of New York City William Paulding Jr., and businessman and financier William Rockefeller. The cemetery also holds the remains of local people who inspired Washington Irving’s “Sleepy Hollow” characters like Wolfert Acker, former deacon of the church. His wife Maretje Sibouts and his brother Jan Acker, the church’s first deacon, was also buried here (supposedly in the church). Here rest also Dirck Storm, author of Het Notite Boeck der Christelyckes Kercke op de Manner of Philips Burgh, a book about the early years of the Old Dutch Church, Catriena Ecker Van Tessel, a possible model for Katrina in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and her Revolutionary War hero husband Petrus Van Tessel.
Every autumn, tens of thousands of visitors flock to the Old Dutch Church and the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery for seasonal events that draw on the legend.
All images from Wikipedia.