I love Halloween because it’s time to share scary stories and movies. I try to read Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving every year. You can find an unabridged version here:
Washington Irving was a great storyteller, I don’t know how much of it actually came from his own imagination. His stories were influenced by old legends and tall tales he’d heard from early childhood as he traipsed the back woods of Upstate New York with his friends, hunting, fishing and swimming like the quintessential American boy. As an adult travelling in Europe he heard the older versions of these stories, passed along to America by migrants, made into American folktales as they were handed down from generation to generation.
In Germany, die Wilde Jagd, in England, the Wild Hunt, is a kind of ghost army, based on legends of old kings who led savage armies in attack of their enemies. Headless horsemen are common in European legends – there have been so many horrific wars there, thousands of years of guys getting their heads whacked off by swords or blown off by cannon balls, they got a headless horseman story in every town.
A common link in these stories is that these ghosts are mostly seen by people who linger at the pub too late at night, or maybe aren’t the nicest people in town maybe. In Scotland Tam o’Shanter is a man who keeps his wife worrying by lingering at the tavern too late, disgraces himself by drinking too much and flirting with the bar maids. Late one night he’s passing an abandoned church where he sees a bunch of local women dancing half-naked around an old man playing a bagpipe. Being a shameful skirt-chaser, he can’t help but stop and watch for a while, then finally gives himself away by taunting the women. When he jumps on his horse to get away, they come flying after him, tearing the tail off his old horse as he escapes across a river. Enchanted creatures, like witches and headless horsemen, are unable to cross the middle of a running creek or river. But, his tail-less horse is Tam o’Shanter’s shame, a warning to all those men who disrespect their wives. Listen up Fellas!
But of course, any girl who sneaks out to meet her boyfriend and share a smoke after dinner is also likely to run into the Wild Hunt, and get carted back to the den. Watch it Girls.
This was entertainment in the old days, Irving heard stories like this around the campfire, the kitchen table, and in Taverns and Inns all over New England and Europe. He traveled the countryside and knew the little towns of Upstate New York – there really were towns called Tarry Town and Sleepy Hollow, in fact, Irving’s grave is in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, not far from various members of the Van Tassel family.
This is a great story for popcorn and hot apple cider. And maybe a side of treacle sponge pudding (click on the picture for the recipe, a real olde tyme treat).