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THIS HALLOWEEN, LET’S celebrate a guy named Washington and a classic American tale. Manhattan-born Washington Irving was named after another fellow named Washington even before the latter became our first president in 1789. Irving spent part of his youth in the Catskills, where he came to appreciate Dutch customs and local lore.
Years later when he was a writer living in England, Irving put together a collection of Catskills tales titled The Sketch Book by Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. One of its stories was “Rip Van Winkle.” Another was “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Tidbits today on the latter range from a nineteenth-century literary upstart to a twenty-first century enhancement of my annotated books.
An Upstart American. Washington Irving lived in Europe for 17 years, from 1815 to 1832. Wikipedia says he was “often feted as an anomaly of literature: an upstart American who dared to write English well.”
Irving introduced himself to Sir Walter Scott and they became friends for life. After the success of The Sketch Book serialized in 1819 and 1820, Irving traveled Europe while collecting local folk tales. There were rumors that Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, of Frankenstein fame, was romantically interested in Irving, though nothing came of it.
Irving returned to the U.S. in 1832. Ten years later, President John Tyler appointed him as Minister to Spain where he served until 1846. He was pleased to return to “dear Sunnyside,” his converted farm house in Tarrytown, New York, where he lived until his death in 1859, eight months after completing a multivolume biography of his namesake George Washington.
Sleepy Hollow Annotations. Henry John Steiner is the Village Historian of Sleepy Hollow and author of The Historically Annotated Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Here are tidbits about this romance triangle of schoolmaster Ichabod Crane, pretty Katrina Van Tassel, and town blade Brom Bones, complicated by the ghostly presence of a headless Hessian. Or was it?
Schoolmaster Crane. Irvine describes the schoolmaster as “esteemed by the women as a man of great erudition, for he had read several books quite through, and was a perfect master of Cotton Mather’s History of New England Witchcraft, in which by the way, he most firmly and potently believed.”
Abraham Van Brunt aka Brom Bones. As described by Irving, Sleepy Hollow villager Brom Bones “was a burly, roaring, roystering blade… the hero of the country round, which rang with his feats of strength and hardihood.”
Katrina Van Tassel. Irving says Katrina was “a booming lass of fresh eighteen; plump as a partridge; ripe and melting and rosy-cheeked as one of her father’s peaches, and universally famed, not merely for her beauty, but her vast expectations.”
A Headless Hessian. Approximately 30,000 German troops were hired by the British during the Revolutionary War. Steiner writes, “Contrary to popular notion, Hessian mercenaries were not well paid: It was their prince who received the bounty for their service. The need to supplement their meager pay made the rank and file Hessian all the more rapacious when out on a forage through the county.”
“It is a grim fact,” continues Steiner, “that decapitation by cannonball was a not uncommon casualty during the Revolutionary War.”
Tarry Town. Irving describes how the village got its name: “… we are told, in former days, by the good housewives of the adjacent country, from the inveterate propensity of their husbands to linger about the village tavern on market days. Be that as it may, I do not vouch for the fact, but merely advert to it, for the sake of being precise and authentic.”
I’ll not give away the outcome of Brom Bones’s alleged race with the Headless Horseman for a bowl of punch. But I will share the tale’s last line: “Faith, sir,” replied the story-teller, “as to that matter I don’t believe one-half of it myself.”
Have a happy (and safely scary) Halloween. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2019