Tag Archives: Halloween

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween from Muppet Labs!

Yellow Leaves and Red Books

Wow, has it really been more than two weeks since I last posted here?  Sorry to leave you hanging.  Apart from book work, we’ve been enjoying the fall, cleaning up the yard and flower beds, and preparing for Halloween.  Given our schedule this year (including Madi’s incredibly busy volleyball schedule, where’s she’s starting on the varsity squad as a freshman  — yeah, we’re pretty proud of her, too), we won’t make it to Sleepy Hollow for the first time in several years, so we’re decking out our place appropriately, including these two fellows near our back door:

Rest in pieces.

On a different note . . . if you’re a Jim Henson fan and you’re not reading the daily excerpts from Jim Henson’s Red Book . . . well, for shame, Doc, for shame.  What is the Red Book, you ask?  At the end of each year, Jim Henson would go through his personal calendar and write down in his red notebook everything that had happened during the previous year — or, at least, what he thought was interesting.  It’s a fascinating (and, oftentimes, funny) document — not quite a diary, but more than just a simple listing of events. Think of it this way: if Jim were alive today, these are the kinds of things he might put up on a Twitter feed.

Anyway, over at the Jim Henson Company, crack archivist Karen Falk is putting up daily entries — corresponding to actual dates, meaning if today is October 29, then she’ll put up an entry from October 29 — and, where appropriate or helpful, providing a bit of background.

Go get it — and if you’re on Facebook or Twitter, subscribe to it for daily updates. It’s fun.  Trust me.

This Is Halloween….

I love Halloween — though as I mentioned in my interview with Historic Hudson Valley, I’m more of a Christmas person than a Halloween person, mainly because I’m one of the world’s great chickens. 

Don’t get me wrong — I love horror movies and horror novels.  But I was one of those kids — and I’m now one of those adults — who can’t get my mind to shut off once I go to bed.  I watch a scary movie, or read a scary book, then go to bed and lie there in the dark, the covers pulled up around my ears, straining to listen to every sound, convinced the creak of the floor or the wind in the pine tree is the monster/alien/slasher/Joker coming to get me. 

Most of the time I can get over it.  However, there remain trapped in the dark corners of my brain several snippets from horror movies that still scare the daylights out of me.  Most of these I saw before the age of fifteen — just the right age to embed memories that can mess you up for the rest of your life.  So if you really want to scare me, just mention any of the movies mentioned below, and you’ll immediately have me reduced to a quivering, gelatinous mass.

Here they are, ranked from least to most scary — though even the least scary one still seems pretty darn scary to me.  Ready?  Here we go:

(5)   I Married A Monster from Outer Space (1958)

The movie itself isn’t really all that scary — and even the trailer isn’t gloriously dopey enough to give you a sense of what you’re in for — but the monster from this movie?  He absolutely terrified me.:



The same picture was included in an issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland the ten-year-old me somehow convinced my mom to buy for me — and it scared me so badly I had to bury it in the bottom of my desk.  Meanwhile, my 7-year-old brother whimpered himself to sleep.  Need I add that this was also the last issue of Famous Monsters I would ever own?

(4) The Amityville Horror (1979)

I was eleven when The Amityville Horror hit the movie theaters — which means I was nowhere close to being old enough to see it.  But I remember the trailer for it running on television in the evenings — including one memorable evening when my brother and I were spending the night at a friend’s house.  Normally, one of us would leap up and snap off the television when an ad for a horror movie came on, la-la-laing loudly to ourselves and counting off the minute or so until we could turn the TV back on, safe from any horrifying sounds or images . . . except for one moment when we didn’t get up fast enough to turn off a variation of this trailer:

The trailer scared the daylights out of me — especially the voice croaking “GET OUT!”  I was so nervous about this movie I didn’t even try to sneak  a copy of the book from the library, as I normally would have with such taboo material. 

When I finally saw the movie on cable in the early 1980s, it was terribly corny.  The trailer, however, did its job well enough to make it onto this list.

(3) Poltergeist (1982)

Two words: clown puppet.

(2) Halloween (1978)

I watched Halloween from the back seat of my parents’ car at the drive in.  No, my parents didn’t take us to see it.  I think we had come to the drive in to see The Betsy or something equally as lame that didn’t hold my attention.  But Halloween was showing on the screen behind us, and my brother and I spent the evening squatting on our knees, looking out the back window at the flickering screen several hundred yards away.  We never could tell what was going on, but we felt we were really getting away with something.

Several evenings later, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert discussed the movie on Sneak Previews and showed a brief clip.  And to this day, I still can’t believe they could get away with showing this moment on television.  It’s a moment that’s scared me for thirty years.  And it comes at four minutes and 45 seconds into the following clip:

(1) Black Christmas (1974)

From Bob Clark, the director of the family classic A Christmas Story, comes one of the scariest movies ever: Black Christmas — or, Stranger in the House, as it was sometimes titled (and as it was called when I watched it on HBO in the early 80s).   The set-up has become cliche — a maniac hides in a sorority house, makes creepy phone calls to the girls, then disposes of them one-by-one — but you’d be hard pressed to find any movie that’s done it in a scarier way. 

For proof, here’s a brief clip of Olivia Hussey — the heroine — answering a phone call from their mysterious caller:

Happy Halloween!

Trip Report: Blaze, Legends, and Sleepy Hollow

We had a great weekend up in Sleepy Hollow and the surrounding area — and the snow that was in the forecast never materialized.  Instead, we had a bit of rain, a bit of chill, but an otherwise perfect weekend for enjoying all that the area has to offer.  As Sunnyside curator Dina Friedman put it, “We like to think that we own the Halloween season here in Sleepy Hollow.” And they do.

On Friday night, we attended the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor, an old Dutch estate up at Croton-on-Hudson lit up by more than 5,000 carved pumpkins.  Pictures of the event really don’t do it justice, but here’s a few shots I took to try to give you a feel for just how creepily cool it is.

Everything you see at the Blaze is made of pumpkins, attached to each other with stakes or posts. For example, here’s a bat, swooping down over your head as you enter the property.  Each wing is carved into its own pumpkin, then attached to the central piece containing the body.



Next, here’s the approach to Van Cortlandt Manor, lit by lots of yowling, shrieking cats and, if you look closely, even a few brave mice:

Approaching Van Cortlandt Manor.  Beware of cat!

Approaching Van Cortlandt Manor. Beware of cat!

And once you reach the house, Mynherr Van Cortlandt and his wife are waiting there at the top of the stairs to greet you:

The Van Cortlandts preside over the Blaze.

The Van Cortlandts preside over the Blaze.

Rounding the corner, you’ll see a few of the Blaze’s creepier effects.  First, a jungle full of ghostly dinosaurs rage and roar:

Where the wild things are.

Where the wild things are.

Next, it’s a nest of spiders and snakes — including an eerily glowing spiderweb, one of the Blaze’s How’d they do that? moments:



Snakes.  Why'd it hafta be SNAKES?

Snakes. Why'd it hafta be SNAKES?

Here’s a sea of grinning faces, peering out from the clearing:

"We seeeeee yooooou....."

"We seeeeee yooooou....."

Henry Hudson’s ship churns through a ghostly sea of skeleton fish:

"The seas boiled...."

"The seas boiled...."

Meanwhile, skeletons danced:

Grim grinning ghosts.

Grim grinning ghosts.

…and ghostly bees buzzed around a hive — another one of the Blaze’s surprising effects:


Finally, to give you an idea of the kind of artistry on display, here’s a close up of a pumpkin carved to look like a shell.  Incredible, isn’t it?



The next day, I spoke twice at Sunnyside, as part of their daytime Legends events.  Curator Dina Friedman and her staff were incredibly kind and helpful, and I had a good crowd, with lots of good questions.  Dina even recorded the talks for a series of podcasts Historic Hudson Valley is hoping to launch.  That took a bit of experimenting with the Zoom technology — hence, the first talk went unrecorded, but we managed to catch the second one.  I’ll let you know if and when the podcast will be up over at HHV.

Anyway, here’s just a few quick shots at Sunnyside.  Strangely enough, while I’ve been to Irving’s home many times and have tons of pictures of the place, I had never actually taken a picture of the place with my own camera. Here’s a shot of the path to Irving’s home.  You can see the kind of beautiful fall day we were having:

The road from Tarrytown to Sunnyside.  While today's visitors don't use this path, it's the road your carriage would have used to pull up to Irving's front door.

The road from Tarrytown to Sunnyside. While today's visitors don't use this path, it's the road your carriage would have used to pull up to Irving's front door.

Next, it’s the approach down the hill to Sunnyside, where guests were beginning to queue up to tour the home.  The Hudson River is visible just to the left:

A gorgeous fall day at Sunnyside.

A gorgeous fall day at Sunnyside.

Finally, here’s a shot of the front door — obscured by wisteria, but still giving an idea of its charm.  Both floors of the house were open for touring that day — a real bonus:



That evening, we went into Sleepy Hollow for the Evening Legends events at Phillipsburg Manor.  Here’s the approach to the property, spookily lit by colored lights, and reflected in ghostly image in the pond:

Phillipsburg Manor by night.

Phillipsburg Manor by night.

Legends evening is an opportunity to walk around the site of an old farm and mill and just watch spooky things happen.  We saw a great magician (who we jokingly called Ryan the Temp, due to his resemblance to a character on The Office), sang along with pirates, stood at the fence as the Headless Horseman galloped past, glowing pumpkin in hand (I tried to catch him with my camera, but missed) and shrieked only twice when we found we were being closely followed by a lumbering catlike creature.

As we passed the graveyard, we peeked over the fence and caught  a glimpse of a ghostly woman, wailing over the loss of her beloved:


Every once in a while, we would spot her strolling slowly through the crowd, staring blankly ahead.  Other times, a ghostly violinist would wander the property, playing creaky off-key music.  To keep the spooks away, we huddled near one of several Sleepy Hollow scarecrows:

"What party be ye with??"

"What party be ye with??"

And finally, as we strolled past the barn, we caught a glimpse of ghosts wandering aimlessly about just inside:


All in all, a memorable weekend.  Wanna go?  Check out Historic Hudson Valley for more details.

Off to Sleepy Hollow…

We’re getting ready to get in the car and head to Sleepy Hollow for the weekend, where the weather forecast for tomorrow is calling for  snow.  But I’ll be at Sunnyside come rain or shine or, er, snow on Saturday.  Come on out and chuck a snowball at me.  Or something.

In the meantime, here’s a short interview with me over at the Hudson Valley blog, where you can hear me talk about Irving as the 19th century Elvis, and who I think would win in a fight between Batman and Spider-Man.

I’ll be back here on Monday with plenty of pictures, I hope.  The Blaze should look particularly creepy in the mist and snow….

Everybody Scream!

One of our favorite things to do at this time of year is to get lost in an enormous corn maze.  Almost every year since Madi was a wee sprite, we’ve managed to find a corn maze at Halloween time where we can spend an hour–or sometimes hours–trying to find our way out. 

Each year, the Boys and Girls Club at the town down just the road hosts an enormous Halloween festival with haunted houses, hay rides, and, yes, a corn maze.  We went through their corn maze two years ago and got really, really lost — so lost, in fact, that we ended up cheating our way out, ducking down low and cutting out through some of the lower-growing corn at one corner. We finally emerged in a plowed field, then picked our way around the outside edge of the maze in the dark until we found society again.

This year, we decided to give their maze another try.  Madi was having two friends over to work on Halloween costumes, so we agreed to head over to the corn maze at around 7:30 p.m., well enough after dark for the maze to be really spooky.  I pocketed a flashlight this time, in the event we had to make another unauthorized escape, and at 7:30, all five of us — me, Barb, Madi, and two of her friends — stood just outside the entrance to this year’s enormous corn maze.

We had only made it about twenty yards inside when we saw a pile of hay bales stacked to one side–and as we approached it, someone in overalls and a creepy mask jumped out at us.  All three girls screamed, and we cut quickly to our left, making our way around several turns in the dark until we came upon a small group of people huddled in a wide spot.  There at the entrance to the next leg of the maze lay a body, very still.  The group in front of us laughed nervously in the dark.  There was no place to go but forward past the body, or turn back.

I clicked on the flashlight and ran the beam the length of the body.  Sure enough, it was real person, laying very still and just waiting for someone to take a step forward so he could make a lunge for their legs.  

Fair enough.  I took a wide step forward, just barely out of his reach.  He lunged anyway, and our girls screamed bloody murder.

Suffice it to say, we didn’t make it any further than that.

Legends of the Fall

Fall seems to be officially here. Temperatures have settled squarely into the low- to mid-70s, and the air is starting to get that delicious crisp edge.  Some evenings you can smell fireplace smoke, cutting its way through the chill to find your nose.  The weather is that odd combination of brisk and balmy, so you can wear shorts as you work in the yard, but still need a sweatshirt, preferably with the sleeves pushed up to your elbows. It’s my favorite time of year.

Fall also means Halloween is just around the corner, as hard as that is to believe.  My wife is an absolute Halloween Junkie.  While she’s not a fan of the horrifying, she does delight in the goofy fake-scary decorations, from signs that say “EEK!” to life-size plastic skeletons we do all sorts of terrible things to.  And at the end of the season, we’re always very careful to pack the skeletons up again with their upper bodies in one box and their legs in another.  That way, if they come to life and want to go on a killing spree, we’ve at least made them easier to outrun.  Because you can never be too sure.

We’ll also be heading up to Sleepy Hollow in mid-October, which is getting to be a habit with us. We’ll be taking part in the nighttime Legend Celebration  over at Philipsburg Manor (for the fainter of heart, there’s also a daylight version of events over at Washington Irving’s Sunnyside) and the spectacular Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor

If you’ve never been to either event, try like heck to make it.  I’ll try to do a better job taking pictures this year so I can put up a few to give you an idea of just how neat these events can be. Plus, I’m working with Historic Hudson Valley to see if we can come up with something fun and Washington Irvingish to do when I’m there.  I’ll keep you posted.

Finally, I’m working hard on some sample chapters for my latest project, to see if I can make anything come of it.  I’m pleased with what I have so far — and Barb gave me some spectacularly good edits on the first chapter — but we’ll see what happens.  If this comes together, I really will explain everything that’s been going on for the last 18 months.  Hopefully, all will become clear at that time.

The Real “Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

As I discussed here yesterday, Washington Irving’s tale “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is one of those true rarities in American literature — a tale nearly all of us can summarize, even if we’ve never read the original story.

Or can we?

Most of us recall Irving’s tale mainly through a series of strong visual images: Ichabod Crane on horseback, looking like a scarecrow on a hobby horse. Ichabod Crane dancing gawkily with Katrina Van Tassel. Crane spurring his horse Gunpowder through darkened woods, with the Headless Horseman in hot pursuit. And, perhaps the sharpest picture — thanks largely to Walt Disney — a pumpkin hurled straight at Ichabod Crane’s own head.

Irving — who called his tale merely a band connecting a series of “descriptions of scenery, customs, manners, etc.” — would likely be delighted that so many of his mere “descriptions” have been burnt into our brains. But what we’ve buried among those strong visuals is the tale itself, which unfolds in a slightly different manner than we may remember, and ends with a bit of a twist and a flourish.

Let’s revisit Irving’s “Legend” — or maybe you’ll be visiting it for the first time — and experience his tale as Irving really wrote it. I think you’ll find it’s just as good, if not better, than the way we think we remember it.

Much of “Sleepy Hollow” is actually set-up for the climactic chase, and Irving devotes pages to descriptions of his characters — especially Ichabod Crane — and their motivations. Here’s Irving describing the physical traits of his gawky school teacher — and you can see why this was a no-brainer for a Disney animator:

He was tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together. His head was small, and flat at top, with huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so that it looked like a weather-cock perched upon his spindle neck to tell which way the wind blew. To see him striding along the profile of a hill on a windy day, with his clothes bagging and fluttering about him, one might have mistaken him for the genius of famine descending upon the earth, or some scarecrow eloped from a cornfield.

Next, Irving makes certain we understand that Crane is easily spooked and has a whiff of nervous-nelly about him, information we need for later:

…as he wended his way by swamp and stream and awful woodland, to the farmhouse where he happened to be quartered, every sound of nature, at that witching hour, fluttered his excited imagination . . . and if, by chance, a huge blockhead of a beetle came winging his blundering flight against him, the poor varlet was ready to give up the ghost, with the idea that he was struck with a witch’s token….

…How often was he appalled by some shrub covered with snow, which, like a sheeted spectre, beset his very path! How often did he shrink with curdling awe at the sound of his own steps on the frosty crust beneath his feet; and dread to look over his shoulder, lest he should behold some uncouth being tramping close behind him! And how often was he thrown into complete dismay by some rushing blast, howling among the trees, in the idea that it was the Galloping Hessian on one of his nightly scourings!

Now enters the love interest of the tale, Katrina Van Tassel, “a blooming lass of fresh eighteen,” Irving says, “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.” Not quite a “huge tracts of land” joke, but close. Anyway, Irving then establishes that Ichabod Crane’s interests toward Katrina aren’t based purely on the power of her looks or personality:

…as he rolled his great green eyes over the fat meadow lands, the rich fields of wheat, of rye, of buckwheat, and Indian corn, and the orchards burdened with ruddy fruit, which surrounded the warm tenement of Van Tassel, his heart yearned after the damsel who was to inherit these domains, and his imagination expanded with the idea, how they might be readily turned into cash, and the money invested in immense tracts of wild land, and shingle palaces in the wilderness.

Vying for Katrina’s hand — and making up the third point in the tale’s love triangle — is the brash Brom Bones. While we likely remember Brom as either the bullying blowhard from the Disney cartoon, or the sulky Captain of the Football Team from the Tim Burton film, in Irving’s original tale, Brom is actually a rather likeable rogue:

He was always ready for either a fight or a frolic; but had more mischief than ill-will in his composition; and with all his overbearing roughness, there was a strong dash of waggish good humor at bottom . . . The neighbors looked upon him with a mixture of awe, admiration, and good-will; and, when any madcap prank or rustic brawl occurred in the vicinity, always shook their heads, and warranted Brom Bones was at the bottom of it.

Irving has neatly set up the two rivals competing for the hand of the love interest — now it’s time to bring them together. In “Sleepy Hollow,” Irving brings Ichabod and Brom to the Van Tassel home for an evening dinner and dance — and where Ichabod listens to some of Sleepy Hollow’s “sager folks” telling ghost stories. Here’s Irving setting up the appearance of the Headless Horseman, as well as the rules of the coming chase. And you might want to check the doors and windows before you read it:

The chief part of the stories, however, turned upon the favorite spectre of Sleepy Hollow, the Headless Horseman, who had been heard several times of late, patrolling the country; and, it was said, tethered his horse nightly among the graves in the churchyard.

The sequestered situation of this church seems always to have made it a favorite haunt of troubled spirits. It stands on a knoll, surrounded by locust-trees and lofty elms, from among which its decent, whitewashed walls shine modestly forth, like Christian purity beaming through the shades of retirement. A gentle slope descends from it to a silver sheet of water, bordered by high trees, between which, peeps may be caught at the blue hills of the Hudson. To look upon its grass-grown yard, where the sunbeams seem to sleep so quietly, one would think that there at least the dead might rest in peace. On one side of the church extends a wide woody dell, along which raves a large brook among broken rocks and trunks of fallen trees. Over a deep black part of the stream, not far from the church, was formerly thrown a wooden bridge; the road that led to it, and the bridge itself, were thickly shaded by overhanging trees, which cast a gloom about it, even in the daytime; but occasioned a fearful darkness at night. Such was one of the favorite haunts of the Headless Horseman, and the place where he was most frequently encountered. The tale was told of old Brouwer, a most heretical disbeliever in ghosts, how he met the Horseman returning from his foray into Sleepy Hollow, and was obliged to get up behind him; how they galloped over bush and brake, over hill and swamp, until they reached the bridge; when the Horseman suddenly turned into a skeleton, threw old Brouwer into the brook, and sprang away over the tree-tops with a clap of thunder.

We’re approaching the climax. With the party over, Ichabod Crane — who we’ve already seen is a nervous wreck about the dark — rides away on his horse, Gunpowder. Here’s how Irving describes the night, so effectively that you can practically feel the chill and hear the sounds. If this isn’t a Halloween night, I don’t know what is:

It was the very witching time of night that Ichabod, heavy-hearted and crestfallen, pursued his travels homewards, along the sides of the lofty hills which rise above Tarry Town, and which he had traversed so cheerily in the afternoon. The hour was as dismal as himself. Far below him the Tappan Zee spread its dusky and indistinct waste of waters, with here and there the tall mast of a sloop, riding quietly at anchor under the land. In the dead hush of midnight, he could even hear the barking of the watchdog from the opposite shore of the Hudson; but it was so vague and faint as only to give an idea of his distance from this faithful companion of man. Now and then, too, the long-drawn crowing of a cock, accidentally awakened, would sound far, far off, from some farmhouse away among the hills—but it was like a dreaming sound in his ear. No signs of life occurred near him, but occasionally the melancholy chirp of a cricket, or perhaps the guttural twang of a bullfrog from a neighboring marsh, as if sleeping uncomfortably and turning suddenly in his bed.

[. . .]

He was, moreover, approaching the very place where many of the scenes of the ghost stories had been laid. In the centre of the road stood an enormous tulip-tree, which towered like a giant above all the other trees of the neighborhood, and formed a kind of landmark. Its limbs were gnarled and fantastic, large enough to form trunks for ordinary trees, twisting down almost to the earth, and rising again into the air . . . As he approached a little nearer, he thought he saw something white, hanging in the midst of the tree: he paused and ceased whistling but, on looking more narrowly, perceived that it was a place where the tree had been scathed by lightning, and the white wood laid bare. Suddenly he heard a groan — his teeth chattered, and his knees smote against the saddle: it was but the rubbing of one huge bough upon another, as they were swayed about by the breeze. He passed the tree in safety, but new perils lay before him.

As a famous television ghost hunter might say: Zoinks! And now, Irving unveils his ghost, giving him a casual entrance that may leave readers feeling as if they’ve just swallowed a whole snow cone:

In the dark shadow of the grove, on the margin of the brook, he beheld something huge, misshapen and towering. It stirred not, but seemed gathered up in the gloom, like some gigantic monster ready to spring upon the traveller.

. . . Though the night was dark and dismal, yet the form of the unknown might now in some degree be ascertained. He appeared to be a horseman of large dimensions, and mounted on a black horse of powerful frame.

… On mounting a rising ground, which brought the figure of his fellow-traveller in relief against the sky, gigantic in height, and muffled in a cloak, Ichabod was horror-struck on perceiving that he was headless! —- but his horror was still more increased on observing that the head, which should have rested on his shoulders, was carried before him on the pommel of his saddle!

And away we go, in the mad dash through the woods, as Ichabod sprints for the church bridge — which, you remember, it was established the Horseman cannot cross! — and nearly falls off his horse in the process:

His terror rose to desperation; he rained a shower of kicks and blows upon Gunpowder, hoping by a sudden movement to give his companion the slip; but the spectre started full jump with him. Away, then, they dashed through thick and thin; stones flying and sparks flashing at every bound. Ichabod’s flimsy garments fluttered in the air, as he stretched his long lank body away over his horse’s head, in the eagerness of his flight.

As yet the panic of the steed had given his unskilful rider an apparent advantage in the chase, but just as he had got half way through the hollow, the girths of the saddle gave way, and he felt it slipping from under him. He seized it by the pommel, and endeavored to hold it firm, but in vain; and had just time to save himself by clasping old Gunpowder round the neck, when the saddle fell to the earth, and he heard it trampled under foot by his pursuer…

An opening in the trees now cheered him with the hopes that the church bridge was at hand . . . “If I can but reach that bridge,” thought Ichabod, “I am safe.” Just then he heard the black steed panting and blowing close behind him; he even fancied that he felt his hot breath . . .

Ichabod and Gunpowder finally make the church bridge . . . only to discover that the Horseman isn’t about to play by the rules — and provides poor Ichabod, and readers, with one of the most memorable departing gifts in literature:

Gunpowder sprang upon the bridge; he thundered over the resounding planks; he gained the opposite side; and now Ichabod cast a look behind to see if his pursuer should vanish, according to rule, in a flash of fire and brimstone. Just then he saw the goblin rising in his stirrups, and in the very act of hurling his head at him. Ichabod endeavored to dodge the horrible missile, but too late. It encountered his cranium with a tremendous crash,—he was tumbled headlong into the dust, and Gunpowder, the black steed, and the goblin rider, passed by like a whirlwind.

End of story? Not quite — and here’s the part most of us don’t remember. Irving actually gives us three denouements to choose from — the first of which is the creepier, Hammer horror film ending:

The next morning the old horse was found without his saddle, and with the bridle under his feet, soberly cropping the grass at his master’s gate…In one part of the road leading to the church was found the saddle trampled in the dirt; the tracks of horses’ hoofs deeply dented in the road, and evidently at furious speed, were traced to the bridge, beyond which, on the bank of a broad part of the brook, where the water ran deep and black, was found the hat of the unfortunate Ichabod, and close beside it a shattered pumpkin.

The brook was searched, but the body of the schoolmaster was not to be discovered . . .

Don’t like that one? Here’s the second:

It is true, an old farmer, who had been down to New York on a visit several years after, and from whom this account of the ghostly adventure was received, brought home the intelligence that Ichabod Crane was still alive; that he had left the neighborhood partly through fear of the goblin and … that he had changed his quarters to a distant part of the country; had kept school and studied law at the same time; had been admitted to the bar; turned politician; electioneered; written for the newspapers; and finally had been made a justice of the Ten Pound Court.

Did Ichabod Crane really survive his midnight ride through Sleepy Hollow, then? If so, was there really a Headless Horseman? And what became of Brom Bones and Katrina Van Tassel? Irving answers our questions in the story’s true payoff:

Brom Bones, too, who, shortly after his rival’s disappearance conducted the blooming Katrina in triumph to the altar, was observed to look exceedingly knowing whenever the story of Ichabod was related, and always burst into a hearty laugh at the mention of the pumpkin; which led some to suspect that he knew more about the matter than he chose to tell.

Despite the punchline, Irving can’t resist wrapping up his story with a creepy flourish, swirling his cloak about him as he ends his tale and disappears into the fog:

The old country wives, however, who are the best judges of these matters, maintain to this day that Ichabod was spirited away by supernatural means; and it is a favorite story often told about the neighborhood round the winter evening fire. The bridge became more than ever an object of superstitious awe; and that may be the reason why the road has been altered of late years, so as to approach the church by the border of the millpond. The schoolhouse being deserted soon fell to decay, and was reported to be haunted by the ghost of the unfortunate pedagogue and the plowboy, loitering homeward of a still summer evening, has often fancied his voice at a distance, chanting a melancholy psalm tune among the tranquil solitudes of Sleepy Hollow.

You can read “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” in its entirety by clicking here. And please do.

Have a happy Halloween.

A Spooky Sleeper of a Tale…

Tomorrow is Halloween, which means it’s time to re-read one of the classics of American literature, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Pull your copy down off the shelf, and turn to pa . . . what’s that? You don’t own a copy? You’ve never even read it?

It’s okay.

Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is one of the great sleeper hits in American literature, a story whose elements stay in our collective American consciousness even as the book itself fades from college and high school syllabi or other reading lists. As I say often, it’s become such a part of our American DNA that most of us can summarize the story even if we’ve never read it.

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” made its first appearance on March 15, 1820, as the third and final story in the sixth installment of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., a collection of short stories and essays that Irving had been publishing at irregular intervals since June 1819. “It is a random thing,” Irving said of his tale of Ichabod Crane, “suggested by recollections and scenes and stories about [Tarrytown, New York]. The story is a mere whimsical band to connect descriptions of scenery, customs, manners, etc.”

While “Sleepy Hollow” takes most of its basic plot elements from Dutch and German folklore, it can rightly be called our first true American ghost story. Irving not only gives his tale a unique American setting, with distinctly American references (he mentions, for example, the tree where the spy John Andre was hanged during the American Revolution, and Ichabod Crane is said to be from Connecticut), but he tells the tale in a uniquely American voice — funny, self-confident, and with just a touch of self-deprecating cockiness. It also contains all the elements we expect of a good Halloween story: a cold autumn night, a spooky bridge, a shimmering apparition, a clattering chase, and yes, there’s even a pumpkin.

Irving’s ghost story was an immediate hit. “In my opinion [it] is one of the best articles you have written,” Irving’s best friend, Henry Brevoort, wrote to him in April 1820. The critics agreed, even as they only somewhat joked that Irving was the finest British writer America had ever produced. “[Irving] seems to have studied our language where alone it can be studied in all its strength and perfection,” wrote a reviewer in the English Quarterly Review, “and in working these precious mines of literature he has refined for himself the ore which there so richly abounds.”

“Sleepy Hollow” remains perhaps the most memorable item in Irving’s large oeuvre, his perpetual crowdpleaser. So popular was the story in Irving’s lifetime that when he prepared an Author’s Revised Edition of his works late in life, Irving slightly reordered the essays in The Sketch Book to end the volume with “Sleepy Hollow” as its exclamation point.

Thanks in part to two movies — the 1958 Disney short, and the 1999 Tim Burton film — “Sleepy Hollow” remains as popular today as it did in Irving’s time. And thanks to those movies, if I were to ask you to summarize Irving’s tale, you’d probably come up with a series of images rather than the actual plot: Ichabod Crane sitting gawkily on his horse Gunpowder. Crane dancing goofily with Katrina Van Tassel. Ichabod Crane riding Gunpowder for all his might, as the Headless Horseman gains on him. A flaming pumpkin hurled through a covered bridge, straight at the viewer.

That’s all fair enough — the story probably is more about mood than plot, and as Irving himself noted, the tale was simply a “whimsical band” to connect various “descriptions of scenery, customs, [and] manners.” But there’s still a bit more to it than that — including an ending that no one seems to remember.

And tomorrow, I’ll talk about it.