Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, 1895 edition
Collection, 1895 illustrated Van Tassel edition

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Story, 1820
approx. 11,800 words
On Greatest lists
Notable lines
First line

In the bosom of one of those spacious coves which indent the eastern shore of the Hudson, at that broad expansion of the river denominated by the ancient Dutch navigators the Tappan Zee, and where they always prudently shortened sail and implored the protection of St. Nicholas when they crossed, there lies a small market town or rural port, which by some is called Greensburgh, but which is more generally and properly known by the name of Tarry Town.

Great lines

...he would have passed a pleasant life of it, in despite of the Devil and all his works, if his path had not been crossed by a being that causes more perplexity to mortal man than ghosts, goblins, and the whole race of witches put together, and that was—a woman.

Last line

"Faith, sir," replied the story-teller, "as to that matter, I don't believe one-half of it myself." D.K.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow


Witty and skeptical ghost story

First thing to remember about "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is that it's only a short story. One with a twist ending, no less.

It's to the credit of Washington Irving that the story has become better known than most novels and that in so few words it establishes an enduring character: Ichabod Crane. Like many early American characters of literature, he's an eccentric—visually grotesque and yet vain, educated but too clever by half.

We're never quite sure if we're meant to sympathize with him or laugh at him. And whether his comeuppance in the end makes the story a shocker or a comedy.

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" has also become a classic ghost story—though it turns out to be a classic of Yankee skepticism in this regard, poking gentle fun at the superstitions of the time. In this we can see Irving as a forerunner of Mark Twain and other down-to-earth, everyman writers to come.

But almost more important than the plot in this story is how Irving lays it out. At first reading it might seem as though he digresses too much, spends too much time on the atmosphere of the small community hidden from civilization, piles on too much detail about its denizens, goes on too much about Crane and his ridiculous hopes.

And those long, if entertaining, sentences! (See the first line alone.)

But once you've got the narrative out of the way, go back and read the story again. You can then enjoy the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) wit with which he lampoons all sides and his obvious relish for the peculiarities of human nature.

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", once you're over the Headless Horseman, is vastly entertaining in a slow read.

And then when you reach Ichabod's Crane's frantic encounter with the ghostly rider again, it's all the more fun.

— Eric