"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is a short story by Washington Irving. It was first published in 1820 in a collection of Irving's tales called The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon. It is based on a German folk tale but Irving moves the action to upstate New York in the late 18th century. "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is a rare example of a work of early American literature that is still often read for pleasure today.
The plot deals with a man named Ichabod Crane who takes up a position as a school teacher in the small town of Sleepy Hollow, hoping to find a wealthy wife there. He disappears after what he thinks is an encounter with the ghostly Headless Horseman.
The story has been adapted numerous times for stage, film, television and comic books. The best known adaptations are a 1949 Walt Disney cartoon and a 1999 movie directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane.
Sleepy Hollow is a small rural community in New York state. Most of the people who live there are of Dutch descent. Ichabod Crane moves there from Connecticut. He is a tall, skinny man with shabby, old clothes who could easily be mistaken for a walking scarecrow. He is also very superstitious and quite easily frightened. Ichabod takes up the position of teacher in the small town's only school but his real reason for moving to the area is to find a rich woman to marry. He soon begins to take an interest in Katrina Van Tassel, the only child of the wealthy farmer Baltus Van Tassel. Katrina's future husband is certain to eventually inherit Baltus Van Tassel's considerable fortune. Ichabod starts to court Katrina but has a rival in the form of Abraham Van Brundt, a strong athletic young man who is better known by the nickname Brom Bones.
Ichabod Crane is invited to a dinner party at the Van Tassels' home one autumn afternoon. As the dinner party comes to an end, the other guests, including Brom Bones, begin to tell ghost stories. Most of the stories feature the Headless Horseman, the ghost of a German soldier who fought for the British during the American War of Independence and who lost his head when it was knocked off by a cannonball. Brom Bones says that he saw the ghost a year earlier and challenged it to a race. The ghost suddenly disappeared when it arrived at a bridge by the church.
On his way home from the dinner party, Ichabod sees what he thinks is the Headless Horseman. He tries to outride it and reach the bridge by the church. Before Ichabod makes it across the bridge, the Headless Horseman throws a large round object at him and he is knocked unconscious.
The following day, Ichabod's horse is found without a saddle. The saddle is later found, with a shattered pumpkin lying next to it, but Ichabod Crane is never seen again and the story of his disappearance becomes a favorite local tale.
There are rumors that Ichabod Crane is still alive, has moved away and become a lawyer. Some people suspect that Brom Bones, who marries Katrina Van Tassel, was responsible for driving Ichabod away because he "was observed to look exceedingly knowing whenever the story of Ichabod Crane was related and always burst into a hearty laugh at the mention of the pumpkin". However, most people in Sleepy Hollow believe that Ichabod was carried off by the Headless Horseman. Local children do not dare to go near his old abandoned school house after dark, for fear that the teacher's ghost is still inside it.
There have been numerous theater, movie, television and comic book adaptations of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow". The characters of the Headless Horseman and Ichabod Crane or Crane's descendants have often appeared in other media.
Walt Disney's 1949 animated version was originally released as the second half of a feature film called The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. The half hour cartoon was later re-released on its own. The story is narrated, partly in song, by Bing Crosby. Although the word "Halloween" is never mentioned in Washington Irving's story, in the Disney version, the dinner party which Ichabod Crane attends at the Van Tassels' house is changed to a Halloween party. Before he relates the story of the Headless Horseman, Brom Bones and other characters sing about the various ghastly things that happen on Halloween night. The animated film features a lengthy sequence in which Ichabod tries to outrun a visually impressive Headless Horseman. Although Brom Bones is the first person to tell Ichabod about the Headless Horseman, and severely frghtens him by doing so, it appears that the Headless Horseman in the Disney version is supposed to be a real ghost.
In spite of its title, the 1979 Canadian animated TV special The New Misadventures of Ichabod Crane is less of a sequel to "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and more of a reimaginging of the story. In the special, a witch named Velma van Dam magically transforms herself into the Headless Horseman in order to terrify the people of Sleepy Hollow and to steal from them. As an expert in witches goblins and other supernatural things, the schoolteacher Ichabod Crane is appointed by the mayor as the person to rid Sleepy Hollow of the Horseman.
Tim Burton's 1999 movie Sleepy Hollow is only very loosely based on "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow". Instead of being a school teacher, Ichabod Crane is a police officer from New York City who is sent to Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of grisly murders which the local people have blamed on the Headless Horseman. Although there is a sequence in which Brom Bones frightens Ichabod Crane by pretending to be the Horseman and throwing a jack-o-lantern at him, the Headless Horseman is revealed to be a real ghost, controlled by a witch who is Katrina Van Tassel's step-mother.
In 2013, a TV series named Sleepy Hollow was shown on the FOX 5 channel in the United States. The series is inspired by "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and the 1999 movie, but Ichabod Crane in the TV series is a time-traveling soldier who was born in 18th century. He fought in the American Revolutionary War alongside George Washington. He chopped off the head of a horseman in the British Army, but the man did not die because he is the Horseman of Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Ichabod dies but comes back to life and arrives in the Sleepy Hollow of the 21st century, only to find that the Horseman of Death, who is now headless, is there too. Ichabod unites with Lieutenant Abbie Mills to confront the Headless Horseman and the demons who follow him, in order to prevent the world from coming to an end.