Grave Sightings: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

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Stacy Conradt

For years, every time we so much as touch a toe out of state, I’ve put cemeteries on our travel itinerary. From garden-like cemeteries to boot hills, whether they’re the final resting places of the well-known but not that important or the important but not that well-known. I love them all. After realizing that there are a lot of taphophiles (cemetery and/or tombstone enthusiasts) out there, I’m finally putting my photo library of interesting tombstones to good use.

In keeping with the season, today we visit the Old Dutch Burying Ground and the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, which are adjacent parcels of land in Sleepy Hollow, New York. Although the Washington Irving characters from the famous spooky town are fictional, the inspirations behind them are very real.  

First, we have Irving himself, who was interred in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery upon his death on December 1, 1859. It’s fitting that he’s buried a short walk away from the final resting places of the people who live on in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Images: Stacy Conradt

You remember the beautiful Katrina Van Tassel, over whom Brom Bones and Ichabod Crane butted heads. Historians believe she was based on the vivacious Eleanor (“Laney”) Van Tassel Brush, but Irving must have thought Eleanor’s aunt’s name was more befitting of a beautiful young girl, because he seems to have borrowed Catriena Ecker Van Tassel’s first name. Irving would have been quite familiar with the Van Tassel family—there are records of his sister boarding at the family tavern.

Image: Stacy Conradt

Then there’s Brom Bones, AKA Abraham Martling, a blacksmith, just like the mischievous character who tormented poor Ichabod. Unlike the story, Martling and Van Tassel were not romantically involved.

Sadly, you won’t find any Ichabod inspirations buried amongst their fellow Legends. It’s thought the gawky schoolmaster was modeled on the town’s actual schoolmaster, Samuel Youngs. Like Ichabod, Youngs came from New England to help educate the young denizens of Tarrytown. Unlike him, Youngs, a Revolutionary War vet, was no coward. The character’s actual name was inspired by Ichabod B. Crane, whom Irving supposedly met during his stint in the army. Youngs is buried in Dale Cemetery in Ossining, New York; Crane can be found in Asbury Methodist Cemetery in New Springville, New York.

If you’re unlucky enough to be at the Old Dutch Burying Ground/Sleepy Hollow Cemetery on certain nights, you may just find the most infamous of Irving’s characters still haunting the grounds. Legend has it that the horrible demon still roams the graveyard from time to time, hoping to make innocent heads roll... or maybe it’s just the ghost of Leona Helmsley, whose remains are also interred at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

See all Grave Sightings here.

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October 16, 2013 - 5:00pm
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