THE LEGEND of SLEEPY HOLLOW (Abridged)
by WASHINGTON IRVING
A traditional story from the beginning of the 19th century told on Halloween:
Not far from Tarrytown along the Hudson River, there is a little valley among the hills. It is one
of the quietest places in the whole world. Because it is so peaceful and quiet, this lovely valley is
called Sleepy Hollow. The people of Sleepy Hollow believe all kinds of strange things. They often
see strange sights and hear music and voices in the air. According to many people, the valley is
visited regularly by a ghost. The ghost always rides a horse and has no head. Some people say it is
the spirit of a soldier who lost his head in a nameless battle during the Revolutionary War. They say
the body of the soldier lies under the earth of a churchyard. As the story goes, the ghost rides away
every night to hunt for its head and then rushes back like the wind to get to the churchyard before
dawn. The ghost is known in all the country homes by the name of the Headless Horseman of Sleepy
Once in the early history of this region, a man named Ichabod Crane came to Sleepy Hollow as a
teacher. The name Crane suited him. He was tall and thin with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs,
and big feet. His hands hung a mile out of his sleeves. His head was flat at the top, and he had a long
pointed nose. On a windy day, he looked exactly like a scarecrow, some people said. His school stood
alone in a rather pleasant place at the foot of a hill. It was a log cabin with one large room and a low
roof. The broken windows were covered with pieces of old paper. Ichabod was not a cruel teacher.
On the contrary, he punished his students as fairly as possible. After school hours, he was friendly
with the children. Indeed, it was tactful of him to be their friend. The pay for teaching was small,
and even though he was thin, Ichabod liked to eat. In that part of the country, the teacher lived in
the homes of the children’s parents. He went to all the farms in turn for a week at a time. He carried
all his belongings from house to house in a handkerchief. Because he went from one farmhouse to
another, Ichabod became a kind of traveling newspaper. People were glad to see him because he
carried the news from house to house. The mothers thought well of Ichabod because he was gentle
and kind with their children. He often sat with a child on his knee for hours at a time. The women
also thought well of him because of his great knowledge. He had read several books completely. He
had also studied a whole book about witches.
Of course, Ichabod firmly believed in witches. He also believed all the stories about the ghosts
of Sleepy Hollow. He loved to sit in front of a fireplace with the old Dutch wives on long winter
evenings and talk about ghosts, haunted houses, and the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.
There was pleasure in all this, while he was in a warm lighted room among the company. No ghost
dared to show its face there!
However, that pleasure was always followed by the fears of his walk home. He sometimes jumped
in fear at the sight of a bush covered with snow. He often stopped at the sound of his own steps and
was afraid to look over his shoulder. All of these, however, were just fears of the night.
Many young people came to Ichabod’s singing class one evening each week. Among them, there
was a pretty girl of eighteen named Katrina Van Tassel. She was the daughter and only child of a rich
farmer. She was known far and wide not only for her beauty but also for the money which she would
have some day. Katrina knew that she was pretty, and she liked to catch the boys’ eyes. Her short
skirt showed the prettiest feet in the whole valley. Old Balthus Van Tassel, her father, was a perfect
picture of a happy, kind-hearted farmer. He enjoyed his wealth, but he made no great show of it.
The Van Tassel farm was almost like a nest in a quiet green place along the Hudson River. The large
barn near the house was as big as a church. Men were busy in the barn from morning until night.
There were birds on the roof, fat pigs in the pens, turkeys in the farmyard, geese and ducks in the
fresh water of their stream. The farmhouse had plenty of room for everything. There were bags of
wool in the corners, and the shelves were filled with Indian corn and apples.
Ichabod Crane had a soft and foolish heart toward girls. Naturally, Katrina’s youthful beauty pleased
him very much, especially after he had visited her father’s farm. He rolled his large green eyes over
the rich fields of wheat and the trees which were heavy with fruit, and his heart longed for the girl.
When he entered the house, he wanted to become a member of the family more than ever. From
then on, his peace of mind was at an end. How could he win Van Tassel’s beautiful daughter? Top
At the time Ichabod became interested in Katrina, many young men were trying to win Katrina.
They watched each other carefully, and they were ready to fight together against any new fellow.
Among these, the most dangerous was a big, loud fellow named Brom Van Brunt. The countryside
was full of stories of his strength. He had broad shoulders and curly black hair. His face was bold but
pleasant. He was famous as a brave horseback rider. he was first at all races. He was always ready
for a fight, but he liked fun even more than a fight. Whenever any wild trick was played, everyone
knew Brom was at the bottom of it. For some time, Brom had wanted to win Katrina. Whenever
Brom’s horse was outside Van Tassel’s farmhouse, everyone else kept away. Naturally, no one dared
to go against Brom openly. Therefore, Ichabod went on in a quiet and gentle manner. As the singing
teacher, he often visited the Van Tassel farmhouse. In this way, Ichabod often had a chance to sit
with Katrina or walk with her in the evening. Of course, bad feelings developed between Brom and
the teacher of Sleepy Hollow, but Ichabod was too wise to quarrel openly with Brom.
Matters went on this way for some time. Then, on a fine fall afternoon, Ichabod was sitting on the
tall chair where he usually watched over his school. All the boys and girls were busy with their books
or were whispering behind them with one eye on the schoolmaster. Suddenly, a boy rode up on the
back of a wild little horse. He ran into the schoolhouse loudly and asked Ichabod to attend a party at
the Van Tassel farm that evening. Then the boy left in a hurry. In a moment, everything became alive
in the classroom. The children raced through their lessons. The whole school was let out an hour
before the proper time.
Ichabod took at least a half hour to get ready for the party. He brushed up his best and only suit
and combed his hair in front of a piece of mirror on the schoolhouse wall. Of course, he wanted to
appear before his lady in a fine manner. Therefore, he borrowed a horse from a cross old Dutchman
named Hans Van Ripper. When he started, the afternoon sky was clear, and nature was dressed in
rich gold colors. Wild ducks flew high in the air. The sound of squirrels echoed among the trees.
The schoolmaster arrived at Balthus Van Tassel’s home toward evening. People from all over the
country were there. Naturally, Brom Van Brunt was there too. He had come to the gathering on a big
horse named Daredevil. The old farmers wore homemade suits, blue stockings, and big shoes with
shining buckles. Their wives wore tight caps and long dresses. The young girls were dressed like their
mothers. Plenty of food waited for the Van Tassels’ company. There were cakes of all kinds. There
were peach and pumpkin pies, ham, roast beef, and chicken together with bowls of milk and cream.
Ichabod was not in a hurry. He took time to eat all that he could hold. His heart warmed with thanks
as he filled himself with food. He smiled at the thought of owning all this someday. Old Balthus
Van Tassel moved about among the company. His face was spread with joy and was as round as
the full moon. Then the musicians began to play. Ichabod was almost as proud of his dancing as of
his singing. The lady of his heart danced with him and smiled in reply to all his smiles. Brom sat by
himself in one corner jealously.
When the dance was at an end, Ichabod joined some of the older people. They told stories about
ghosts and the strange things people had seen and heard. Many people had heard terrible cries near
the tree by the church where Major Andre had been captured. Most of the stories were about the
Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow. Several people had seen this ghost lately. Old Brouwer, who
did not believe in ghosts, said he had met the Horseman on his ride into Sleepy Hollow. Then Brom
said that he had met the Horseman one night. Brom had offered to race with the Horseman. Brom
had almost won the race too. But the Horseman had rushed on at the bridge by the church and
had disappeared in a flash of fire. These stories were told in front of the fire in a low voice. Ichabod
listened to everything. Then he told about parts of his book about witches.
At last the party began to break up. The old farmers gathered their families in their wagons. Some
of the girls sat on horses behind their young men. The sound of their laughter soon died away in the
distance. At last, everything was quiet at the Van Tassel farm. Ichabod stayed behind for a moment
to speak to Katrina. He was sure that he was going to win her. But apparently something went
wrong. After a while, he walked away with a sad expression on his face. Without looking to the right
or left to notice Van Tassel’s rich lands, he went straight to his horse. Top
When Ichabod left the Van Tassel farm, it was the exact time of night for witches. As he rode along
the sides of the hills above Tarrytown, he could hear the sound of a dog from the other side of the
river. There was no sign of life near him except from some little animal in the woods. All the stories
of ghosts and strange things came back to Ichabod’s mind. As he came near Major Andre’s tree,
he began to whistle. He thought his whistle was answered, but it was the wind in the dry leaves.
Suddenly he heard a groan. He began to shake, and his knees hit against the saddle. But it was only
one large branch which was rubbing against another in the wind.
About two hundred yards from the tree, a small stream crossed the road and entered the woods. A
few logs side by side formed a crude bridge over the stream. Passing this bridge was the hardest part
of Ichabod’s journey. His heart began to jump, but he tried to be brave. He gave his old horse a few
kicks and tried to rush across the bridge. But it was no use. His horse took a step forward and then
jumped into the bushes along the side of the road.
Just at this moment, Ichabod heard a step by the side of the bridge. In the darkness beside the
stream, he saw a peculiar black shape. The poor schoolmaster’s hair rose on his head in fear. What
could he do? It was too late to turn around and go back.
“Who are you?” Ichabod called. Then he asked the question again in a shaking voice. There was still
Once more, he beat the sides of the old horse. At the same time, he started to sing a church song.
Just then, the black object moved to the side of the road. Ichabod could see its form. It was a large
horseman on a black horse with a big body. The horseman kept off to one side of the road and
moved at the same speed as Ichabod. The schoolmaster remembered Brom’s meeting with the
Headless Horseman. Although Ichabod’s horse moved a little faster, the other came on just as fast.
Ichabod’s heart stood still. He tried to sing again, but his tongue was dry. Finally, Ichabod could
see the horseman clearly against the open sky. He was headless! Then the teacher’s horror was
increased. The horseman carried his head in front of him on the saddle!
Ichabod suddenly kicked his heels, and his old horse began to run. The horseman started right
behind him. The two horses galloped down the road madly. Stones flew, and sparks flashed at
every step. Ichabod’s loose clothes flew in the wind. They reached the road to Sleepy Hollow, but
Ichabod’s horse made the wrong turn down the hill to the left. This road crossed a bridge close
beside the white church. By the bridge, Ichabod’s saddle started to slip off. Ichabod threw his arms
around the neck of his horse to save himself, and the saddle fell to the ground.
Then the schoolmaster saw the walls of the church under the trees. This gave him hope. The ghost
usually disappeared by the church bridge. “I am safe if I can reach the bridge,” Ichabod thought.
At that moment, he heard the black horse behind him. Ichabod’s horse rushed over the boards of
the bridge. Then Ichabod looked behind himself. The Headless Horseman rose in his stirrups and
threw his head at Ichabod! The poor schoolmaster tried to dodge, but the awful thing hit him with
a great noise. Ichabod fell into the dust, and the two horses and the ghost passed by like the wind.
The next morning, the old horse was found without his saddle at his master’s gate. Ichabod did not
appear at breakfast. The boys came to school and walked along the banks of the stream, but there
was no schoolmaster. The neighbors started to hunt for Ichabod. After a while, they came upon the
marks of his horse’s shoes. The saddle was found alongside of the road by the church. Ichabod’s
hat was found by the broad part of the stream. Beside the hat, there was a broken pumpkin. The
neighbors hunted in the stream, but the schoolmaster’s body was not discovered. Hans Van Ripper
looked after Ichabod’s things. There were a few clothes and a book of church songs. Van Ripper also
found his book about witches and a paper with several lines in honor of Katrina Van Tassel. Hans
Van Ripper burned these books and decided not to send his children to school anymore. He said that
nothing good ever came from reading and writing.
The event was talked of at church on the following Sunday. People gathered in the churchyard at
the bridge. They began to shake their heads. They decided that the Headless Horseman had taken
Ichabod away. No one worried about Ichabod anymore. The school was moved to a different place,
and another schoolmaster came to teach.
Soon after Ichabod disappeared, Brom Van Brunt married the beautiful Katrina. He always laughed
loudly when people spoke of Ichabod and the pumpkin. Some people even thought that Brom knew
a great deal about the matter. However, the old country wives are the best judges of these things.
To this day, they say that Ichabod was taken away by some strange means. The story is often told by
neighbors in front of the fire on cold winter evenings.
End of the Tale.