Sleepy Hollow (and its Legend)


Aw, tomorrow is Halloween. I mean, it's exciting, but it's simultaneously sad. I'm like those people who get the post-wedding blues "“ you know, you've been planning and planning and planning and then the event is over, and you're left with a void.

I didn't actually get the post-wedding blues, but I do get the post-Halloween blues. Yes, I'm weird. Anyway, since tomorrow is the last day I can do Halloween posts for another 11 months or so, it's time to regale you guys with tales of my September trip to Sleepy Hollow. I've been holding on to it for over a month! Bear with me; I might be a little long-winded.

1. Sleepy Hollow was made famous by Washington Irving, the author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. Actually, he may have named the town—his term "Sleepy Hollow" is the first recorded use of the name. The town was originally called North Tarrytown, but voted to legally change its name to Sleepy Hollow in 1997 (their school athletics teams are called the Horsemen. Love it.). Nearby Irvingtown is named after him—in fact, it took its name while he was still alive, which is a little unusual. Usually those types of things are posthumous. It just goes to show what a beloved character he was in the area. Oh, one other quick Irving fact: in 1807, he coined the term "Gotham" for New York City—it's an Anglo-Saxon word meaning "Goat's town."

2. The cemetery looks like one cemetery, but it's actually two and is owned and maintained as two separate entities. There's the Old Dutch Burying Ground, which is on the grounds of the Old Dutch Church; and there's Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, which surrounds the Old Dutch property. The people Irving used as his inspiration are located in the Old Dutch Burying Grounds; Irving himself and lots of other illustrious people are located in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. The two cemeteries put together are huge—about 88 acres. Most of that is Sleepy Hollow Cemetery "“ the Old Dutch Property is only about three acres.

3. Washington Irving wasn't really one to reveal the true identity of the people behind his stories, but he wasn't too difficult to decipher.

Most historians think Eleanor Van Tassel Brush was probably the real-life Katrina Van Tassel. Catriena Ecker Van Tessel (Eleanor's aunt) was the inspiration for the name, obviously, but Eleanor's life story and demeanor more closely mirrors that of the fictional Katrina.

4. Likewise, Brom Bones was a real guy. He's thought to be modeled after Abraham Martling, the blacksmith in the village at the time Irving lived there. "Brom" is a nickname for Abraham, or at least was at the time. He was a big guy and rode a gigantic black horse similar to the horse in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

5. The Headless Horseman. This one—well, Irving was a fiction writer, right? So you can bet that he took some poetic license with this one. But it's conceivable that this could have happened, so who knows? The story: The farm of Cornelius and Elizabeth Van Tassel was raided by British and Hessian soldiers in November, 1777. When the Van Tassels tried to fight, the soldiers responded by burning down their farmhouse. First, however, they took the inhabitants of the house hostage. While they watched their house burn, Elizabeth noticed that her baby, Leah, was nowhere to be found. She tried to run back into the burning house to find her, but couldn't. That's when a Hessian soldier led her to a shed where someone had wrapped the baby up in a blanket and left her, safe and sound. The Van Tassels were so grateful, that when a Hessian soldier missing his head was found in Sleepy Hollow, they insisted on burying him properly in case it was the soldier who had been kind to them. So, if the tale is true, you can see where Washington Irving got his inspiration"¦ even though the "real" Headless Horseman appeared to be at least a partially decent guy.

6. There's a real Ichabod Crane, to be sure, but you won't find him in Sleepy Hollow. Ichabod was a Captain in the Army at the same time Irving served. When he needed a name for his arrogant schoolteacher, he thought of Captain Crane. Supposedly, the real Ichabod Crane was less than flattered.

7. Hulda the Witch is a Sleepy Hollow character you won't find in Legend. Hulda was a real person, an immigrant from Bohemia. She displayed suspicious witch-like behavior by living alone in a cabin in the woods and gathering herbs to make remedies. But she seemed like a perfectly nice lady: when people in town fell ill, she would leave them baskets of her potions and pastes to try to help the healing. People were scared of her anyway, though. However, she became something of a town hero when the British invaded. A group of British soldiers were marching on Albany Post Road, so she and some fellow citizens stopped in their tracks to discourage them from coming any closer. She was a crack shot, I guess, and was able to kill several soldiers before they took her down. People weren't sure if they should bury her in the Christian Old Dutch Burying Ground, since she was a "witch" and all. When they visited her cabin, they found a will that left all of her assets to women who were war widows. This may have been the deciding factor in the great burial dilemma "“ the townspeople declared that she was a patriot who died fighting for her community and buried her in the cemetery. Her grave is unmarked, however.

8. As I mentioned before, there are lots of other people buried at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Its most recent famous residents are socialite Brooke Astor and Queen of Mean Leona Helmsley. But you'll also find Elizabeth Arden, Walter Chrysler, Andrew Carnegie, William Rockefeller and Samuel Gompers (among others). For one of the richest men in history, Carnegie's stone is surprisingly simple. That's his pictured. Rockefeller's, however, is definitely not.

9. The Disney version "“ The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, (two separate features, billed as one) came out on October 5, 1949, with Bing Crosby narrating and providing the voice for Brom Bones. The Tim Burton/Johnny Depp version came out on November 19, 1999. This version pays tribute to the Disney version in a couple of spots, if you pay close attention "“ namely in the scene where Ichabod is crossing the bridge and freaking himself out by misinterpreting all of the forest noises. Although Christopher Walken is the (fabulous) Headless Horseman, he has no lines in the movie"¦ just some noises and grunts and the like.

10. The infamous bridge is no longer there - they've built a small bridge in its honor in the cemetery, but at the real spot, this sign is the only thing that remains of the original.

A completely un-Legend-related bit of trivia: Triple H and Stephanie McMahon got married in Sleepy Hollow.

Here's an added bonus for you: The complete text of Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow from Gutenberg. Perfect way to bide a little time and spook yourself a little bit.

And here are a few more pictures I thought were creepy or interesting but couldn't fit into the post:





Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
Pop Culture
The Cult of Prince Philip
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images

For seven decades, Prince Philip has been one of the more colorful figures in Britain's Royal Family, prone to jarring remarks and quips about women, the deaf, and overweight children.

"You're too fat to be an astronaut," he once told a boy sharing his dream of space travel.

British media who delighted in quoting him are still lamenting the 96-year-old's recent retirement from public duties. But the people of the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu are likely to be optimistic he'll now have the time to join them: They worship him as a god and have based a religion on him.

Followers of the Prince Philip Movement, which started in the 1960s, believe that the prince was born to fulfill an ancient prophecy: that the son of an ancient mountain spirit would one day take the form of a pale-skinned man, travel abroad, marry a powerful lady, and eventually return to the island. When villagers saw the prince’s portrait, they felt the spirit in it, and when he visited Vanuatu in 1974, they were convinced.

Chief Jack Naiva, a respected warrior in the culture, greeted the royal yacht and caught sight of Philip on board. "I saw him standing on the deck in his white uniform," Naiva once said. "I knew then that he was the true messiah."

True believers assign large world movements to the machinations of Philip. They once claimed his powers had enabled a black man to become president of the United States and that his "magic" had assisted in helping locate Osama bin Laden. The community has corresponded with Buckingham Palace and even sent Philip a nal-nal, a traditional club for killing pigs, as a token of its appreciation. In return, he sent a portrait in which he’s holding the gift.

Sikor Natuan, the son of the local chief, holds two official portraits of Britain's Prince Philip in front of the chief's hut in the remote village of Yaohnanen on Tanna in Vanuatu.

The picture is now part of a shrine set up in Yaohnanen in Vanuatu that includes other photos and a Union flag. In May 2017, shortly after the Prince announced his retirement, a cyclone threatened the island—and its shrine. But according to Matthew Baylis, an author who has lived with the tribe, the natives didn't see this so much as a cause for concern as they did a harbinger of the prince's arrival so he can bask in their worship.

To date, Prince Philip has not announced any plans to relocate.

A version of this story ran in a 2012 issue of Mental Floss magazine.

The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]


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