Thursday, October 18, 2012

My first Night in Sleepy Hollow, New York

A lantern, lighting the way to the Old Dutch Church

After the drive full of the changing and falling leaves, I finally got to Sleepy Hollow. I came into the village for the first time at night, well after dark. Crossing the Hudson from Nyack, I can't say for sure what I thought Sleepy Hollow might look, feel like.

 You come into Sleepy Hollow crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge. The long, wide, winding bridge spans the Hudson River and, at night-- at least on the first night I crossed the bridge-- you can look over your shoulder to the south, and see the lights and skyline of New York City. You finish the bridge, pass the tolls, and take a turn-- and you are in Tarrytown and, suddenly, the Village of Sleepy Hollow.

 In the opening of Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," Irving describes the area known as Sleepy Hollow, and admits that the area is "properly known by the name of Tarry Town." The actual Village of Sleepy Hollow as it stands now is officially known as such, having changed the name to "Sleepy Hollow" in 1997 (which, my cemetery tour guide would later say, did wonders for their tourism industry.) The Village of Terrytown still exists, home to Washington Irving's home and the delicious Tarrytown Tavern-- but more on those places, later.
The Old Dutch Church

 Driving into the villages of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow feels small. You are suddenly driving along a winding, hilly, tight street lined with a small and-- absolutely-- sleepy village. In Tarrytown, you begin to see the images of the Horseman. On flags adorning people's homes, on shops and in restaurant windows. And then the sign for the Village of Sleepy Hollow appears, and the Horseman is everywhere. On the town hall, on police and fire vehicles-- and then you are at the center of Sleepy Hollow. All the while you have been driving along the hilly terrain you have been driving down-- and just as you hit the bridge by the church the road begins to climb up.

The altar, with Ichabod jack o'lantern atop.
 The bridge by the church is the bridge by the church. The Horseman's. Washington Irving settled in the area he loved after being sent there during his youth from New York City to avoid the yellow fever outbreak in the late 1700's. There is something so uniquely special, moving, about seeing the inspiration of a story you have loved all your life, and held so dear. Seeing that, yes, the story is real. "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" has long dominated my literary understanding, and my love for the Halloween season. Since childhood, the animated Disney version of the tale has been the standard all other ghost stories are held to. There is so much in the story, about the telling of tales, of ghost stories, about what is and can be truth with the supernatural-- that is so classic, so autumn, so ripe of the harvest, so Halloween. Walking up to the bridge, and seeing what brought Irving to write the story-- still there-- was amazing. No, the bridge is not wooden and covered and in the woods, but the bridge is there. Paved over and modern, there is still a river it stands over-- and you cross the bridge, look up and see the Old Dutch Church; which, too, remains.


 I had tickets to the last performance of "Irving's Legend" for the evening, which takes place in the Old Dutch Church. "Irving's Legend" is a performance piece by professional storyteller Jonathan Kruk, who offers a one man (and an organ player) performance of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." I tell you, the grinning smile spanning from my one ear to the other did not leave my face the whole night. I was in Sleepy Hollow. Having crossed the horseman's bridge. In the Old Dutch Church. Outside each window, you can see the cemetery which surrounds the church. And you are surrounded by candle lit jack o'lanterns. With the organ blaring. And then the tale of the horseman begins to be told from the altar. Jonathan Kruk gives a great performance of the tale-- and it's certainly worth noting he gives these performances multiple times a night, most nights. Being told live, as he does, you truly get to experience such an essential part of Irving's tale-- how the Horseman is all about the legend, the telling of ghost stories together, and sending you out home, alone. Into the darkness.

The Horseman's Bridge.

 After Kruk's performance, I walked around the church taking photos, still on a cloud of Halloween. Later, taking some outside of the church, I quickly realized my limitations with my camera at night-- taking photos in the dark is something I don't have much experience in, and playing with the flash and seeing what it can and cannot do made me wish I had practiced some more before the trip. But I don't think all of these photos are bad, and I loved taking them. It was so hard to be torn away from the old church, the cemetery, the bridge and the rest of the hollow, in the dark. Across the street, and down a riverbank, is the Horseman's Hollow haunted house attraction, but even that was dark, quiet and sleepy. Occasionally, on a light wind, the screams of those going through would drift over. And there was nowhere else I would rather have been.

In vain, I tried taking some pictures of one of the Horseman and Ichabod statues in the dark, before acquiescing to go back to the hotel-- and return with the daylight on Sunday to spend the day exploring the village and, at long last, the cemetery.

 You may view my photo album from my first night in Sleephy Hollow here:

Old Dutch Church, First Night in Sleepy Hollow

 And a short video I took sitting in my pew, waiting for "Irving's Legend" to start in the Old Dutch Church: 

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