Today’s column was about a contretemps over a large, steel statue of the Headless Horseman that the village of Sleepy Hollow wants to assemble on a traffic island off Route 9, near the Old Dutch Church and cemetery. I’m not going to rehash the details in this blog, so go ahead and read the column if you want to find out why some residents of the neighborhood don’t want the thing installed at that particular location.
The subject of Washington Irving and his classic tale, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is irresistable, which no doubt explains why CBS radio called me this moring to go on the air and talk about the statue flap.
Irving, who lived at “Sunnyside,” just down the road , makes it clear in the introductory paragraphs of his story that the ghostly tale about the skinny schoolteacher, Ichabod Crane, and the Headless Horseman was set in our neck of the woods. He makes numerous references to “Greenburgh,” the “Tappan Zee,” “Tarry Town” and the “sequestered glen” of Sleepy Hollow.
It’s not disputed that Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. lays first claim to the story. To attract tourists, the village even changed its name from North Tarrytown to Sleepy Hollow in 1997.
What may not be widely known, however, is that the village of Kinderhook in upstate Columbia County also can take some credit for Irving’s creation. Irving often visited the upstate village, which was the hometown of President Martin Van Buren, and apparently wrote the story there.
Irving supposedly drew his characters from real Kinderhook denizens. Ichabod was based on a local schoolmaster named Jesse Merwin; Brom Bones was a guy by the name of Abraham Van Alystyne and the Van Tassels were fictional versions of an important Kinderhook family, the Van Alens.
Ruth Piwonka, Kinderhook’s historian, told me she assumed all of the above is true, but it’s not something she personally feels is all that important to the village’s heritage.
‘Sure, I have a feeling that Irving must have met people at that time who were characters or personalities he evoked in one way or another,” she said. “But I’m sure he met others in other places as well, and they also gave some inspiration to him.”
Kinderhook has embraced Irving’s story in two obvious ways: The story is read out loud at Halloween celebrations and the local high school is called Ichabod Crane High School.
I asked Piwonka if the village would kike the statue of the Headless Horseman that some residents of Sleepy Hollow aren’t too excited about.
“Don’t ask me,” she said.