Along the cove where the Hudson dances into the Pocantico, there wandered, an itinerant schoolmaster from Connecticut. Looking like a scarecrow who had escaped his post, with a pointy snipe of nose, Ichabod Crane, was most aptly named. He took on the job of schoolmaster in Sleepy Hollow. Living for a couple of weeks at a time, in each of his young scholar’s homes, he brought learning and a gazette of gossip into the gloomy community. By day, he used the birch-branch to ‘urge tardy loiterers down the flowery path of knowledge.’ By night, he sought students with good cooks for mothers, for he enjoyed the comforts of the cupboards. Above all, in Hollow known for it’s ghost lore, Ichabod found no story detail to gory to hear. Soon, the schoolmaster fell under two spells.
The drowsy dreamy air of Sleepy Hollow also enchanted Crane to sense spirits. The whole region abounds with haunted houses, haunted streams, bewitched barns and bridges. There appears in Sleepy Hollow the spectre of Major Andre, the revolutionary war spy. One also hears the moans of a mysterious woman in white, wailing before storms sweep across the Tappan Zee.
The principal goblin, and dominant spirit is that of headless horseman. A cannon ball carried away his head, at an unnamed battle for independence, leaving a ghoulish ghost relentlessly seeking what he lost. The farm wives frightened the schoolmaster with fireside tales of this specter whom they called, the galloping Hessian of Sleepy Hollow. The other spell beguiled Ichabod more than any ghost, goblin or coven of witches. ‘Twas that of a coquettish woman! Katrina Van Tassel was a ripe blooming lass, known not only for her beauty, but for the bounty anyone marrying her would inherit. She was the only daughter of Baltus Van Tassel, the most prosperous farmer in the Hollow. Ichabod courted Katrina as her singing master. He rolled his eyes over all the Van Tassel’s abundant wheat fields and fruit orchards, imagining, ‘one day, all this will be mine.’
The course, of course, to true love, as the bard said, is never straight. Ichabod route to Katrina was more crooked than a barrel of eels. Standing between Crane and Katrina was a “burly, roaring, roistering blade,” known as Brom Bones. A Herculean figure, he rode like a Cossack through the Hollow, and presented a ready rival to the scarecrow of a schoolmaster. Brom, though made more of mischief than malice, threatened to "double the schoolmaster up, and lay him on a shelf”!
Clever Crane never agreed to meet his challenger on the open field for a round of fisticuffs! Heavens No! This forced Brawny Bones to turn to a chari-vari of tricks! He tried smoking Crane out of his school, and set a witch –web of a booby-traps. (howls) He trained a ridiculous dog to howl whenever Ichabod gave the Van Tassel heiress her singing lesson. Crane, still would not give up his suit for Katrina!
Finally, things come to a “head” lest they’d go on this way too long. The Van Tassel’s held an annual autumnal “quilting frolic.” Upon receiving the invitation, Ichabod cried. “School’s dismissed!” Hair queued in an eel-skin, neck stock and knee britches, he got himself all gimmed up, and borrowed for his knightly courting, a sway-backed ornery plow-horse named Gunpowder. Crane, with a love poem in his frock coat pocket, rode off to woo and win Katrina after the ball.
Again, passing by the Van Tassel farmstead, Ichabod imagined everything, complete with cooked ducks swimming to him in their own gravy, as ‘All mine.’ The Sleepy Hollow folk, decked out in brass buttons and ribbons sat down together for the feast. Ichabod, though “exceedingly lank” had the “dilating powers of an anaconda.” He ate with the joy other men felt for a good smoke or a strong drink.
When the ancient fiddler struck bow, the schoolmaster bounced onto the dance floor. Every part of his lank frame moving, he jittered and figured liked St. Vitus – the patron of the dance! Why this jumping with joy? Why his partner was the desired Katrina Van Tassel. The entire party watched and clapped and urged on Ichabod, while the great Brom Bones sulked. He was one of those men who believed dancing unmanly.
When the tune ended, Brom set his plan to work. He flattered and cajoled the veterans into polishing up their old Revolutionary war stories. Tales of sword, and cannon inevitably lead to a stories of Sleepy Hollow’s spirits. Talk turned farmer Brouwer. Right after he claimed ‘I am a “heretical disbeliever in ghosts!” the galloping Hessian bashed his brains. Brom followed with a frightful tale of his remarkable race with the headless horseman. Ichabod gasped when learning, “the goblin rider vanished in a flash of fire.” He can not cross the bridge by the Old Dutch Church graveyard. “Good night to all!” Baltus broke up revelry, and all merrily rode home. Ichabod approached Katrina like Romeo, but soon returned to Gunpowder, crestfallen. The coquette had led him on, to send him away. The night along the Hudson looked as lonely as the rejected Master Crane. The forlorn schoolmaster felt the crickets and owls turn into spooks and spirits. Riding in fits and starts on the cantankerous horse, soon every blazed branch and forest creaking became an uncouth ghoul or the white lady’s ghost. Near the haunts of Wiley’s swamp, Andre’s Capture Tree spooked Ichabod. He then heard the “plashy tramp of another traveler.”
“Who are you?” He stammered, but received no reply. "Who are you!!"
“On mounting a rising ground, which brought the figure of his fellow-traveler in relief against the sky, gigantic in height, and muffled in a cloak, Ichabod was horror-struck on perceiving that he was headless! But his horror increased on observing that the head… rested on the pommel of his saddle."
A race against terror took off. ‘If I can just make it to that bridge!’ thought the school master. ‘The headless horseman can not cross!’ Ichabod squeezed Gunpowder so hard he broke off the saddle and almost popped out the horse’s one good eye. Ichabod reached the church bridge first. He turns to assure himself of the ghost’s fiery disappearance. Alas! He caught goblin in the very act of hurling his ghastly head. A shattering encounter with Crane’s cranium ends the night’s haunting.
The next morning, Hans Van Ripper, Gunpowder’s owner, found his horse grazing. “Where is scarecrow of a schoolmaster?” The school children have a holiday. The Dutch folk made a startling find beneath the bridge. There, scattered on the banks of the Pocantico, they spied the remains of their poor pedagogue. A hat, a piece of poetry to Katrina, and some cried. “Looky! Tis Crane’s brains!” A few scoffed, “Tis but pumpkin mash.” No matter - Ichabod, never again was seen in Sleepy Hollow.
Ah now, some claimed, ‘Crane had gone to the city and suffered a fate worse than being chased by a headless ghost; he had became a lawyer! Brom, of course, married Katrina, and always gave a knowing laugh whenever someone mentioned the pumpkin part of this tale. The wise Dutch farm wives, who know these matters best, insist ‘de galloping Hessian spirited Ichabod to his grave that night. And in the cove where his old school house once stood, you still hear the ghostly singing of Ichabod Crane..