The Van Tassel Family, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and Washington Irving
Sleepy Hollow's Legend
Among The Scenes of the Quaint Old Dutch Story.
The Van Tassel homestead and the course of Ichabod Crane in his wild night ride-the school-house and the characters-Washington Irving's Grave.
Tarrytown, Aug. 12-When Tarrytown's bells are rung at eventide their sounds steal up through Sleepy Hollow and seem almost to tell again the story of the headless horseman and the wild night ride of Ichabod Crane. The legend of Sleepy Hollow is more than a thrice-told tale, but the descendants of the sturdy Hollanders who first peopled these hills and valleys rehears it to succeeding generations and it will never grow old. Washington Irving, who sleeps among its scenes, immortalized Diedrich Knickerbocker's, or, in truth his own, legend when he gave it a place in his "Sketch-book" Sleepy Hollow is to-day the same that ever it was. "A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land and to pervade the very atmosphere." It is a perfect vale of quietude. "A small brook," in the words of the storyteller, "glides through it with just murmur enough to lull one to repose, and the occasional whistle of a quail or the tapping of a woodpecker is almost the only sound that breaks in upon the uniform tranquility." There must be more than a grain of truth in the legend, the Sleepy Hollow folk say, for the spots are still here and the old men knew the characters. The Van Tassels were a prolific race, and their descendants are here by the score. They are proud of their name and the story is their heirloom. The events of the night which the writer relates took place below what is now the Hollow. But in Father Knickerbocker's time the break in the sloping side of the hill in which a portion of the village of Tarrytown is situated was considered part of the Hollow. Diedrich Knickerbocker could not have been otherwise than a good soul, with a love of song and story, and one to read his stories would think his pipe and bowl, too. He used to go about with ears open, and he treasured up the stories that were poured into them. He like to hear of goblins, and he listened with rare enjoyment when he was told of the galloping Hessian who came out of his grave in the Sleepy Hollow churchyard every night to look for his head, that had been blown away by a cannon-ball. How the Headless Horseman was personated by the unsuccessful lover to win a sweetheart away from the more erudite schoolmaster he heard with much glee. It is a pity there were not more like Diedrich Knickerbocker. His tales will long live.
The home of pretty Katrina Van Tassel, whom Ichabod Crane wooed, but whom Brom Bones, his rival, won, stands with few changes in the upper edge of Tarrytown, close by the turnpike. The house was built in 1712 by Abram Martling, and the town records show that a Van Tassel was the owner at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Washington Irving said himself it was the place where Katrina of the story lived. Forty-eight years ago Jacob Mott, who lives there still, bought the place. There were 80 acres of land in it, and the young farmer who is now a gray-haired man, pade $3,800 for it. The land has been sold off piece by piece until only four acres surround the house. The sloping eaves under which Baltus Van Tassel hung his harness and flails, and under which sat Dame Van Tassel's spinning wheel and churn, have been cut away, an addition has been built on the rear, and a bay window constructed, but otherwise the house is unchanged in form. The great fire-place in the hall, into which whole logs used to be put, has been bricked up, to be sure, but that does not alter the appearance of things. It was in this hall that the "quiltin frolic" was held and where Ichabod nimbly danced with Katrina to the envy of Brom Bones. When the frolic took place resplendent pewter was ranged along a dresser in the room; in one corner stood a bag of wool ready to be spun, in another a quantity of linsey-woolsey just from the loom, and ears of Indian corn and dried apples and peaches hung in gay festoons along the walls. Where Ichabod cut pirouettes and pigeon wings is now a tidy parlor. In this very room an officer of Gen. Washington's staff lay sick with fever, and the commander visited him here. While the house is the same, all is changed about it. A stone wall has supplanted the paling in front to which Brom Bones tied his horse Daredevil when he came "sparkin" Katrina, and where the cartroad was a flagstone walk is laid. The water which bubbled up from a spring through a barrel set in the ground is now drawn up in an oaken bucket from a walled well. Another barn has taken the place of the one whose sides were bursting with the rich stores of Baltus Van Tassel's broad acres. The farm-houses round about have disappeared, and only Katrina's house, surrounded by elegant residences, remains. No money would induce the present owner to part with it. Washington Irving asked him to keep it as it is, and he will do so. Good Mistress Mott once had a printed copy of the legend, but a neighbor borrowed it, it went from hand to hand, and soon was lost.
An arch of stone spans the brook where Ichabod first saw Brom Bones dressed up to look like the Headless Horseman after leaving Baltus Van Tassel's to go to Hans Van Ripper's, where he was stopping. The road beyond, where Ichabod struck up a psalm to keep his courage up, is a smooth, broad avenue line with fine houses. At the corners where the obstinate Gunpowder which Ichabod bestrode turned down the hill, instead of taking the road to Sleepy Hollow, is a sign pointing in the direction of the pedagogue's flight which reads:
A vestige, and it is but slight, remains of the bridge which crossed the Poncantico, a stream undeserving of the name of river, where Brom Bones let fly the pumpkin that rested on the pommel of his saddle, which Ichabod mistook for the galloping Hessian's lost head. It was just as the schoolmaster's horse left the bridge that the pumpkin struck him on the head and knocked him from Gunpowder's back. The bridge spanned the stream in a deeply wooded glen an eighth of a mile above the present substantial stone-arched structure. Most people think that the bridge stood below, but it did not. The superstitious Dutch colony changed the road to the south to get out of the course of the Headless Horseman. The abutments of the old bridge were a wall of loosely laid stone on either side. Parts of the abutments remain, bu they would be passed by unnoticed by the person not looking for them. On the southern bank of the stream the earthwork approach leads out into the water, and at its extreme point a cedar tree of goodly size has grown up. The limits of the church-yard, which is, after many years, dignified with the name of cemetery, take in the old road up to the church. Opposite the northern approach to the bridge is the cemetery barn, and the dead lie where the roadway once ran. The churchyard where the goblin was said to tether his horse is thick with sunken graves and moss-grown slabs. The church which Frederick Philips, the first lord of the manor, and his good wife Katrina Van Cortlandt built in 1699, that the people round about might have a place wherein to worship, looks as substantial as over it did. "It stands on a knoll surrounded by locust trees and lofty elms, from which its decent white-washed wall shine modestly forth like Christian purity beaming through the shades of retirement." Services are held in the old Dutch church as regularly as they were nearly 200 years ago. The old manor mill below is rotting away. Its great timbers are dropping out of place, and its shingled sides are sadly distorted. In place of ragged banks, a wall of stone extends around the pond, and its water goes to supply power to another mill on the opposite side. The stream on whose side Ichabod's had was found, and for whose body it was dragged, raves on unceasingly, babbling the story of its own.
The last place, which, by the way, figure first in the story, is the school-house wherein Ichabod instilled learning and applied the birch. This has cause much dispute. There are two spots which accord with the description. One is high up in Sleepy Hollow, and the other is just across the brook from the scene of Andre's capture, where stands the handsome residence of D. C. Reynolds. Most people suppose the school-house, "a low building of one large room, rudely constructed of logs, the windows partly glazed and partly patched with leaves of old copy books," stood where now stand, a mile and a half from Tarrytown, a structure upon whose front is painted:
William L. Carae, in a corner of whose farm the house is built, says that his grandfather, William Sharpney, who owned the place long before him, used to tell him when a boy that Ichabod Crane's school-house stood on the knoll across the stream from the spot where Andre was taken. It is very likely that this was the location of the school-house of the legend. A tall birch stood before the door, and from it Ichabod cut his rods. Ichabod was not a cruel potentate at school, the tale runs, but he bore in mind the maxim "Spare the rod and spoil the child," and when he applied the birch to the youngsters he called it "doing his duty by their parents." The puny stripling who winced at the sight of the rod was passed by, "but the claims of justice were satisfied by inflicting a double portion on some little tough, wrong-headed, broad-skirted Dutch urchin who sulked and swelled and grew dogged and sullen beneath the birch." Ichabod followed the chastisement invariably with the assurance to the boy that "he would remember it and thank him for it the longest day he had to live." If the place name by Mr. Carlae is the right one a great change has taken place. The grounds are graded, and where the log school-house was is a white hospitable-looking house with broad piazzas and an air of comfort and elegance about it. The distance from the Van Tassel homestead is about a quarter of a mile. The structure on the other site is a square wooden building with a cupola on top. The lives of the pedagogue and pupil in Sleepy Hollow are different from what they were. There is no Brom Bones to stuff up the chimney and smoke the school-house out, and there is a vast deal more comfort in the house. Ichabod's scholars used to sit on the flat side of a slab which was made into a bench by boring holes and sticking pegs in them for legs. To-day the schoolboys have smooth seats with backs to them. The quill pens that the boys manufactured themselves or paid a penny apiece for have been supplanted by stell pens, and better spelling-books can now be bought for 12 cents than those which in those days cost 50. Another thing, the schoolmaster does not keep his wardrobe in the school-house tied up in a cotton handkerchief and primp before a bit of broken looking-glass, as Ichabod did. There is no boarding around either, a week at a time, at farm-houses, as in olden times, and it is to be wondered at that Ichabod, who was counted next to the parson in learning and taste, could live as contentedly as he did under discouraging circumstances. It was not along boarding around, but he pedagogue was expected to help on the farms in idle hours, drive the cattle to water, split wood, and, in short, keep busy all the time. Ichabod used to study Cotton Mather's "History of New-England Witchcraft," and its stories still linger in the valley. The old Dutch wives listened to the yarns from Ichabod's lips where they sat spinning by the fire, with a row of apples roasting and sputtering on the hearth, and they in turn told him ghost stories until his blood and theirs, too, ran cold.
Old William Sharpney used to tell his grandson that the characters of the legend were taken from real life. Ichabod Crane was Sam Young, a pedagogue and pettifogger, who went no one knew whither; Brom Bones was Abram Van Tassell, long since called to his fathers, who lived three miles from Tarrytown, and Katrina Van Tassel-well, she was Katrina Van Tassel.
Irving, who mad the story what it is, occupies the humblest grave in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. A plain marble slab at the head of it bears the simple inscription:
Thee oaks and a cedar shade the plot, which is thick with the graves of the Irvings. The relic-hunter has left his mark on Irving's grave. The headstone and footstone have been chipped off until they present a ragged appearance. The plot, which is surrounded by a hedge, looks down on the place where the old bridge crossed the river. At Irving's home, Sunnyside, everything is just as it was when he died, except the pond, which is no longer seen. When Irving died he wished no costly stone raised to honor him. But a monument more enduring than a shaft stands in Tarrytown. It is the Irving Memorial Church. Eighty-five thousand dollars have been expended on the church. The tower remains to be erected, and this year the Rev. John F. Herrlich, the Rector, will endeavor to raise $10,000 to build it. The bell to hang in it sits on a low wooden tower in the churchyard. The church is a handsome structure of blue granite. It came very near going three years ago on a mortgage fore-closure, but Mr. Herrlich saved it by securing $26,000. Among the givers at the time was Samuel J. Tilden. Washington Irving was buried from Christ Church in Tarrytown, a vine-embowered edifice on the turnpike.
New York Times, Aug 13, 1882 p. 8
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