Sunday, October 16, 2016

HGB Ep. 155 - Sleepy Hollow and the Headless Horseman

Moment in Oddity - The Disappearance of Solomon Northup

Many people know the story of Solomon Northup's life as a slave. He was a man born to a freed slave and a free African-American woman, thus he was a free man. But for twelve years, he was in bondage after being drugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery. His wife and family had no idea where he was and they assumed he was dead. A Canadian man got word back to New York and several people worked together to free Solomon. He documented these years of his life in a book that became an Academy Award winning movie, "12 Years a Slave." But did you know that Solomon would become lost again, but not only to his family. His disappearance in 1857 is one of history's mysteries. Solomon was on a tour through Canada giving lectures that year. He was in the next stop, which was Streetsville, Ontario, and he just disappeared to never be seen again. People have wondered if he was murdered in retaliation or if he was kidnapped and sold again. Some wondered if he died of natural causes, but surely we would know that. He was a man who was becoming fairly well known and yet he was able to just disappear without a trace. And that certainly is odd!

This Day in History - Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio Founded

On this day, October 16th, in 1923, Walt and Roy Disney founded the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio. It was incorporated in 1929 as Walt Disney Productions. That original company would become the Walt Disney Animation Studios, a division of the Walt Disney Company. Walt was the creative side of the business, while Roy maintained the finances. Roy would eventually be bought out by Walt and become the first CEO of the company. The initial focus was on cartoon shorts, but eventually they would release animated feature films. "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" was their first full length feature in 1937. Zootopia, which was released in 2016, is the Studio's 55th feature film. The studio was the premiere animation studio and developed many of the early animation film techniques, including storyboarding. These techniques are the core of traditional animation. The Brother's studio made stars of characters like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy.

Sleepy Hollow and the Headless Horseman (Suggested by Lexi Goober & Seth Nathan, Research help from Melissa Cabic)

Photo courtesy of Dawn O'Creene

 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. -Excerpt from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a well known piece of fiction written by Washington Irving in 1819. Many of us first heard the story in our youth and the tale fueled our imagination with images of a headless horseman chasing a man through the forest, carrying a fiery pumpkin that represented his head. It was a terrifying tale. But is this just a piece of fiction? Is there some truth to the story? Headless figures seem quite common in the world of the paranormal, so it's not too hard to believe that some may ride horses. And what of this place called Sleepy Hollow? There is a town that does indeed bear this name, as does a cemetery, and both are reputed to be haunted. Join us as we explore the legends of the headless horseman and the history and hauntings of Sleepy Hollow!

Ichabod Crane is like you and I, intrigued by stories of the supernatural. So was Washington Irving. He was born in 1783, the baby of a family with eleven children. The family was living in Manhatten, New York at the time and the Revolutionary War was coming to an end. George Washington was a national hero and Washington Irving was named after him. Like many writers, Irving had a wonderful imagination and he would rather write a story about an adventure than stick to his studies. He regularly snuck out of class and headed to the theater. Yellow Fever broke out in 1798 and Irving's parents sent him to Tarry Town to keep him away from the sickness. Irving fell in love with the area and enjoyed hearing the stories about local lore. He took on many hats as he got older. He went to law school and passed the bar, he worked in his family's merchant business and he fought during the War of 1812. He spent many years in Europe after the war working to save the family's merchant business. He continued writing and in 1820 he included a short story called "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" in a volume of short stories he had written.

The story was set in 1790 in a town called Sleepy Hollow that was a Dutch settlement. In the book, this is a town that is described as a little different than other places. The place seems almost enchanted with residents that believe strongly in the supernatural. This was a village near Tarrytown, New York. The area was first inhabited by the Weckquaesgeck Native Americans that were possibly part of the Mohican tribe. The Dutch set up New Netherlands in the state that would become New York and everything was peaceful for a time. Eventually conflict broke out. The Dutch settled in the area that would become known as Sleepy Hollow. The nearby Pocantico River was known by the Dutch as Slapershaven or Sleepers’ Haven. Sleepy Hollow appears to be a later, Anglicized version of this name and was used to refer to the whole area, not just the river. In 1664, the British took over and renamed New Netherlands, New York. At that time, Dutchman Frederick Philipse made the Pocantico Purchase, which included virtually all of present-day Sleepy Hollow. Philipse built a church, a mill and a manor house in 1685. The area was kept heavily forested and used for farm lands and it remained that way for decades. Tarrytown would industrialize, but Sleepy Hollow kept its quaint charm and Washington Irving loved to explore it and hunt and fish there. The Dutch traditions and stories were strong in Sleepy Hollow. The Dutch Church was a central hub and people came from all over to attend services and gatherings there. Eventually, Sleepy Hollow would be incorporated as North Tarrytown. It wouldn't be until the 1980s that people would start calling for the original name to come back. It did in 1996.

So now we know that Sleepy Hollow was and is a real location. Irving did not make it up. But what of the main antagonist of the story, the Headless Horseman? There was a tradition dating back to a time a few years before Irving came to Sleepy Hollow, that spoke of a headless horseman. He first heard the story from an African American mill worker at Carl's Mill, which was the Sleepy Hollow Mill. The horseman was a Hessian soldier that had served during the Revolutionary War and he had lost his head to a cannonball. Rumors circulated that he haunted the cemetery where he was buried. There was only one cemetery in Sleepy Hollow at the time, the Old Dutch Burying Ground. Hessian troops had raided the various villages during the war and so a Hessian soldier on horseback was a terrifying thing to the local people. The soldier in the story becomes even more frightening because he is without his head. So he more than likely is looking to replace his head. A headless ghost also seems inhuman because it lacks the ability to express emotions. Thus, such a figure is terrifying.

This original legend that Irving based his short story on went something like this: A Dutchman was drinking at the local tavern in Tarrytown and heard the story of a Hessian soldier who was buried in the Old Dutch Burying Ground without his head because it could not be found. The men spoke of a ghost on a horse galloping through the cemetery and they surmised that he was looking for his lost head or attempting to lead the troops in a charge up Chatterton Hill during the Battle of White Plains. The Dutchman laughed at such a story, but when he left the tavern at midnight and began his walk home in the dark, he was no longer laughing. When the graveyard came into sight, he felt an uneasiness and he quickened his step. His eye was caught by a light emitting from the ground in the graveyard. A white mist rose from an unmarked grave. He began to sweat and his heart pounded. The mist formed into a horse with a headless rider and the Dutchman screamed. He dropped his lantern and ran. He ran as fast as he could to the bridge because the lore about water tells us that spirits cannot cross it. He stumbled and tumbled from the road. As the headless horseman galloped past him, he saw that it was wearing a Hessian uniform. He hid in the bushes for a while and then went home to tell his wife what happened. The story soon spread through Tarrytown and people began to believe that the headless horseman was real.

To add more credence to the legend, there are historical facts to back it up. There is a marker on Merritt Hill that reads, "This historic site is Merritt Hill, which marks one of the actions in the Battle of White Plains on October 28, 1776. During the attack on Chatterton Hill, the British marched up the road to Conneticut (Lake Street) to attack the left flank of Washington's defense assmebled on Hatfield Hill opposite Merritt Hill. General Heath under General Washington, had placed Colonel Malcolm, his NY Regiment and Lt. Fenno with one field piece to station Merritt Hill in defense of Hatfield Hill. Lt. Fenno fired a cannon ball directly into 20 British horsemen approaching Hatfield Hill. This single shot caused the British to retreat back towards White Plains." This historic marker details a brief skirmish between American and British forces, but that’s not the whole story – the British also brought along reinforcements in the form of Hessian mercenaries from Germany and it was one of these unlucky men who was to find himself the recipient of one cannonball to the head and live in infamy as “the headless horseman”. As American General William Heath wrote in his journal, “A shot from the American cannon at this place took off the head of a Hessian artillery-man. They also left one of the artillery horses dead on the field. What other loss they sustained was not known”. Irving not only heard tales from the people of Sleepy Hollow, but he read General Heath's journal. Ichabod Crane was an actual military man who served in the War of 1812, who met Washington Irving at Fort Pike in Sackett’s Harbor, NY in 1814 and he was inspired to use this name as his main character.

Stories and legends of a headless horseman are found in Celtic, German, American and Indian folklore. In Ireland, he is known as “dullahan” or “dulachan”, which means "dark man." The dark man is a terrifying figure described as a headless fairy astride a black horse, carrying his head under his inner lower thigh or holding it high so that he can see a great distance. He wields a whip made from a human corpse’s spine. When the “dark man” stopped riding, a death would occur. In some versions, he can be frightened away by wearing a gold object or putting one in his path. In Glen Mor on the Isle of Mull in Scotland rides a headless horseman near the 13th century Duart Castle. The horseman is said to be Ewen MacLaine of Lochbuie. He had a goal of being a chieftain, but that dream was cut short when he lost his head in battle. He continues to search for it to this day. Scots Magazine has a more detailed account of the story behind Ewen MacLaine's demise and here is a brief bit about the legend itself:
"I first became aware of the presence of the awesome spectre of the Headless Horseman that haunted the roads of Mull when I was still an impressionable school boy, with two miles of lonely island road to walk each way to and from school, summer and winter. One morning, I learned that the grocer’s van had been confronted by the spectre at a bend just above our house and had escaped only by cutting the corner and bumping across what was, fortunately, a soft, heathery flat. Why, I saw the evidence of it with my own eyes when I went up and examined the deep tyre marks! As time went on, more evidence came to my notice. In particular, there were two very ancient trees whose trunks grew almost horizontally along the ground, one by the roadside near Salen (now gone since the construction of the new road), the other beside the bridle path where it skirts Loch Ba, the right of way that once crossed the shoulder of Ben More in central Mull.In each case, a Maclean of Duart was walking along in the dusk when he was attacked by the Headless Horseman, who was a Maclaine of Lochbuie and had no use for the Duart Macleans. In each case, the man managed to fend of the ghost attacker with his dirk in one hand, while holding his ground by gripping a young sapling in the other. The struggle went on until cock crow. Then, of course, the spectre had to retire to the Shades, leaving the Maclean men exhausted but safe beside the saplings, which they had almost torn out by the roots during the struggle, and which grew horizontally ever after. Many a time, as I toddled home in the dark, past the cemetery (which was bad enough!), along the winding road lined by dark, humpy bushes concealing unknown terrors. I quaked at the idea of the Headless Horseman suddenly lowering above me on his black charger, even although I wasn’t a Maclean."
Germany has the legend of "The Wild Huntsman" that originated near Saxony. This is a headless horseman who blows a horn to warn hunters not to ride the next day. Its a portend of danger and Germans believe it means there will be an accident. Some variations of the German lore make him out to be a good guy or a type of vigilante dealing swift justice against perpetrators of capital crimes. The headless horseman is seen as a heroic figure in Indian folklore. The “jhinijhar” is described as a Rajput prince who lost his head while defending a village from bandits. He refused to back down, even after being beheaded. In Madh Pradesh folklore, it is said that he is born out of violent and wrongful deaths or deaths that have occurred while protecting innocents. He does not harm innocent people and is vulnerable to powdered indigo dye.

Chicago has its very own headless horseman. This legend dates back to the Pullman Strike of 1894. It was named for George Pullman and the company he created building the Pullman sleeper cars for trains after the Civil War. The company town of Pullman, Illinois was built around a factory. Things were good until the financial panic of 1893. Pullman cut employee wages heavily, but didn't cut the cost of living, mainly rent. The employees were outraged and their union took action. Employees boycotted Pullman trains and threatened to strike during protests. What had started off as peaceful got violent when the government stepped in. President Cleveland sent in the Army. Protestors set fire to buildings and several civilians and soldiers died in the melee. Union leaders were arrested, the strike was broken and the plant reopened. Shortly thereafter, stories of a headless horseman riding near the 4900 block of Loomis Street were told. Many believe he was a calvaryman who lost his life during the strike violence.

So now we know that Irving was inspired by a legend that the people of Sleepy Hollow told and it would seem that this village has a headless horseman spectre. Was Sleepy Hollow as superstitious and haunted as Irving seems to describe in his story? Irving wrote in his story, "Some say that the place was bewitched by a High German doctor, during the early days of the settlement; others, that an old Indian chief, the prophet or wizard of his tribe, held his powwows there before the country was discovered by Master Hendrick Hudson. Certain it is, the place still continues under the sway of some witching power, that holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie. They are given to all kinds of marvellous beliefs, are subject to trances and visions, and frequently see strange sights, and hear music and voices in the air. The whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions; stars shoot and meteors glare oftener across the valley than in any other part of the country, and the nightmare, with her whole ninefold, seems to make it the favorite scene of her gambols."

There are those in our modern era that claim that Sleepy Hollow is one of the most haunted cities in America. There are two cemeteries that are connected to each other. The first is the original Old Dutch Burying Ground that we have mentioned. It is situated next to the Old Dutch Church, which is the second oldest extant church in New York. It was built in 1699 from fieldstone and the walls are two feet thick. Clapboard is above the roofline. The interior furnishings are built from wood. Burials began at the churchyard in 1650. Frederick Philipse is buried here. As for hauntings, of course, there have been sightings of the Headless Horseman.

The other is the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery that was originally named Tarrytown Cemetery. This is where Washington Irving was buried and the cemetery took the name Sleepy Hollow at his request. Other notable people buried at this cemetery are Walter Chrysler, Andrew Carnegie, Elizabeth Arden, William Rockefeller and Robert Havell, Jr. who printed and colored Audubon's Birds of America series. The cemetery opened in 1849 and encompasses 85 acres with 40,000 burials. Very low disembodied whispering has been heard by people walking through the graveyard. An apparition has made an appearance on several occasions and seems to wander between the headstones.

There is a Gothic Revival-styled mansion that overlooks the Hudson River in Tarrytown, New York known as Lyndhurst Castle. It was designed by Alexander Jackson Davis in 1838 and has been home to former New York City mayor William Paulding, merchant George Merritt and railroad tycoon Jay Gould. It was originally named Knoll. The design was so unique that many called it Paulding's Folly. Each of the men who lived in the house expanded it. Merritt renamed it "Lyndenhurst" after all the linden trees on the property. At some point it became simply "Lyndhurst." The mansion has appeared in the 70s movies "House of Dark Shadows" and "Night of Dark Shadows," both based on the famous Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows. The grounds have haunts. There is the story of a little girl ghost in a white dress that has been seen running through the bushes and hiding behind trees and visitors claim to sometimes hear a small child’s laugh. When people run over to where they have seen her, they find nothing and no one. It is believed that she is the child of one of the former owners who drowned in the Hudson River. Behind the mansion there is a statue with hands high in the air looking skyward. During the month of October, the statue weeps. The statue is said to haunt anyone who tries to harm it or deface it.

The home where Washington Irving lived in Sleepy Hollow is called Sunnyside. It was a small cottage sitting on the banks of the Hudson River when Irving moved into it in 1835. He renovated the place and expanded it into the beautiful home that it is today. He collaborted with his artist neighbor, George Harvey. The home is enveloped in the vines of an exotic wisteria plant. Most of the furnishings are original. It is reputed to be haunted by Irving and his nieces. Their appartions have all been seen around the house doing things to tidy up.

Irving mentions a location known as Raven's Rock in the short story. This is a place that is described as forboding and dark, on the east side of Buttermilk Hill. The legend that went with this location, according to Irving, was our infamous Lady in White. But there are those that claim there are three ghosts that haunt this place. These three ghosts are described in the book "History of the Tarrytowns" by Jeff Canning and Wally Buxton: “Raven Rock is part of Buttermilk Hill in the northern reaches of the Rockefeller estate near the old Hawthorne Traffic Circle. Legend tells us that three ghosts, not just Irving’s lady in white, roam the area. The lady in white was a girl who got lost in a snowstorm and sought shelter from the fierce wind in a ravine by the rock. The snow drifted in and she perished during the night. It is believed that the spirit of the lady meets the wanderer with cries that resemble the howling of the wind, and gestures that remind one of drifting snow, warning all to stay away from the fatal spot. A more ancient legend tells of an Indian maiden who was driven to her death at Raven Rock by a jealous lover. Her spirit is believed to roam the area, lamenting her fate. The third spirit is that of a colonial girl who fled from the attentions of an amorous Tory raider during the Revolution and leaped from the rock to her death“.

Patriot's Park is a four acre park between Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow that saw activity during the Revolutionary War. It is said that a Hessian soldier was beheaded in the park and that his apparition is seen here. So apparently, there could be two headless Hessian ghosts in Sleepy Hollow or somebody got their facts mixed up. A more prominent haunting is connected to a monument erected in 1853 in honor of an event that occured in the park. Three patriot militiamen stopped a man wearing regular clothing and they started asking him where he was heading. That man was Major John Andre. He did not answer in a timely manner, so they decided to search him and found papers on his person that connected him to Benedict Arnold and some high level espionage. He was quickly arrested for being a British spy. Benedict Arnold managed to run away to Britain, but Andre was sentenced to death by General George Washington. He was hanged on October 2, 1780. An unnatural spirit has been felt near the monument and people claim to see the spirit of Major Andre in his full military dress near the monument. The Major was a poet and sometimes the utterings of poetry by an unseen entity are heard.

Our listener Dawn O'Creene contacted us when she heard the topic of the episode and sent pictures. She said, "While walking the grounds alone, it can feel a little anxious at times or as if you are being watched.  But I've been able to walk through here without much incident.  However, as a photographer, this place is like a carnival for me.  When approaching certain stones, I find myself asking out loud if it's ok, or may I or sometimes I will take a photo, not feeling any resistance and compliment them on their beautiful stone.  There have also been times though where I have felt resistance to the camera...and see a big ole "No" in my head.  I leave those alone and tell them how nice they are anyway (maybe they'll change their mind next time) Enough can't be said for the foliage on the grounds here.  The trees alone seem wise and secretive.  This month, they do have the "headless horseman" making rounds on the weekends at the Old Dutch Church Cemetery.  I went with my 17 year old daughter.  She barely cared.  I reacted as if I saw one of the Beatles."

Sleepy Hollow is a place that is perfect for Halloween, not only because the beloved Halloween classic "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is set here, but because this area seems to be genuinely haunted. Or is it? Were these stories that inspired Irving true or just legends? Do ghosts wander among the tombstones? Is Sleepy Hollow haunted? Does the Headless Horseman really ride in the dark of night? That is for you to decide!

Show Notes:
Cover artwork was by Sara Otterstater: She is available for private commissions at 
Find out more about her: 
Follow her on Twiiter and Instagram: @saralutra

Pictures courtesy of listener Dawn O'Creene:

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