The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

It was only recently that I learned that Sleepy Hollow, made famous by Washington Irving’s story,
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” was a real place. So, although it’s a little out of day trip range for Marylanders — I justified the excursion and this blog with the knowledge that the Mid-Atlantic Day Trips Blog’s northern mid-Atlantic readers could easily reach Sleepy Hollow in a day trip!

The legend that made Sleepy Hollow so famous is a ghost story, pure and simple: a Hessian soldier was separated from his head …. oh, Irving tells it much better in an excerpt from his short story:

The view of the Old Dutch Church
from near Irving’s grave.

The dominant spirit, however, that haunts this enchanted region, and seems to be commander-in-chief of all the powers of the air, is the apparition of a figure on horseback, without a head. It is said by some to be the ghost of a Hessian trooper, whose head had been carried away by a cannon-ball, in some nameless battle during the Revolutionary War, and who is ever and anon seen by the country folk hurrying along in the gloom of night, as if on the wings of the wind.”

At midnight he rides out in search of his head; threatening all living creatures he encounters while he’s out and about. Purportedly, this Hessian soldier is buried at the Old Dutch Church burial ground, adjacent to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, which didn’t exist during Irving’s lifetime.

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery surrounds the Old Dutch Church Burial Ground, and in fact, Irving himself is buried there on a hill overlooking the older cemetery, made famous by his story. Incorporated in 1849 as Tarrytown Cemetery, it posthumously honored Irving’s request that it change its name to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

Detail from the Owen Jones monument.

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery holds its fair share of the rich and famous. Names like Carnegie, Rockefeller, Chrysler (of both building and car fame); mayors, congressmen, and governors; radio stars, musicians, and famous 19th century stage actors; artists, authors, and journalists (including one of the founders of the New York Times); architects and railroad barons.

This cemetery isn’t like the other mid-1800s era cemeteries I’ve visited in the past year or so. The grave markers are more modest overall. Even the rich and famous folks’ mausoleums are richly austere. There were a few ornate markers, such as the Owen Jones monument pictured above.

Detail of the New York City skyline through the door of the Helmsley mausoleum. Ironic that the window’s beauty is best appreciated from within the structure, where most people would choose NOT to be! 
If you’re an Irving fan, then you’ll be happy to note that Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow is a quaint little town — at least the part along US Route 9, alternately referred to as Broadway in the town itself. That’s the part that the doomed Ichabod Crane famously rode, although in the story it was called the Albany Post Road. 
The cool thing about Sleepy Hollow is that you can easily trace Ichabod Crane’s breathless ride: From the site of the Elizabeth Van Tassel house (now the Landmark Condominium, northeast corner of Hamilton Place and North Broadway in Tarrytown), walk north about a third of a mile on US 9/North Broadway to the André captors’ monument in Patriots Park, the spot where Ichabod was met by the headless horseman. Since you’re there, stroll around this pleasant little park. Although the landscape has changed since Irving’s time — gone are the wetlands where Ichabod initially encountered the unpleasant haunt — the stream that created those wetlands still flows through the park. From the park, gallop frantically down the hill and back up again along Broadway until you reach the Old Dutch Church, just over 1/2 mile away. 
Irving in his story mentions how Ichabod would stroll with his students (and their fair sisters) along the banks of the old mill pond — probably Philipsburg Mill Pond, which still exists and is open for tours.

The burying ground in which the unfortunate Ichabod sought refuge is the yard of the Old Dutch Church, not the adjacent Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, which had not been established at the time Irving wrote the Legend. The burying ground is of course the purported haunt of the headless Hessian, but also the resting place of local citizens who likely inspired Irving’s characters of Katrina Van Tassel, Brom Bones, and others in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

Looking into the Old Dutch Church.

The Old Dutch Burial Ground. Interestingly, there were a number of graves
of men who had served in the Revolutionary War.

In the cemetery there’s a rustic looking bridge that is lovely in its own right, and this is called the “Sleepy Hollow Bridge.” Although the actual place where the Albany Post Road actually crossed the small river/large stream is hard or impossible to figure out, it most likely was somewhere in the cemetery — apparently US 9’s current route differs some from the original ancient road. Sadly, the famous bridge where Ichabod was unseated by a pumpkin no longer exists. A local historian has in fact documented five different versions of the bridge, each being replaced by the other, including the latest, the circa 1912 bridge that carries US 9 over the stream. 

Tip: The cemetery offers free legal-sized maps —perfect for a short, self-guided tour to 8 major figures including Washington Irving, Andrew Carnegie, Walter Chrysler, and Elizabeth Arden. Pick up a copy at the cemetery office at 540 North Broadway or from the literature box at the cemetery’s south gate, adjacent to the Old Dutch Church. For a more detailed experience, the Cemetery also offers for salea full-color, 17” x 20” map to more than 50 special features of the cemetery. Purchase at the Philipsburg Manor museum shop across the street from the cemetery’s south gate or online through

Getting there: 540 N Broadway, Sleepy Hollow, NY 10591

Dogs: Yes, but please pick up after them!

Hours: Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Office Hours Monday through Friday, except major holidays, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m..


Explore other interesting cemeteries in the mid-Atlantic region: