In a small bay of the Hudson River, there was once a small Dutch market town, called Tarrytown. Not far from the town to the north, there is a little valley, which is one of the quietest places in the world. You can only hear a small brook and birds in the trees. This silent valley is called Sleepy Hollow. Some people say that the place is haunted. Some people say they saw a dead German doctor, other people saw an old Indian chief. Some people heard music in the trees, others heard strange voices. However, the most common creature that haunts the region is a horse rider without a head - the Headless Horseman. Some people say he is a soldier who died during the revolution. He doesn't only appear in the valley, but sometimes rides to the church of Tarrytown, because his body is buried there.
One day, a small man called Ichabod Crane came to Sleepy Hollow to teach children. He was tall, very thin with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs. His head was small with big ears, flat at the top. He had green eyes and a long nose. He always wore a long black coat with short sleeves. He looked like a scarecrow.
His schoolhouse was a low building with one large room. It was made of logs, some windows had just sheets of old books in them - instead of glass. The only security against the thieves were wooden stakes outside the house, so the thief could get inside easily, but it was difficult to get out. The schoolhouse stood in a lonely but pleasant place, just near the church and a brook.
When school hours were over, Ichabod played with the larger boys, and on holiday afternoons he went home with the smaller boys, especially those who had pretty sisters or good housewives for mothers. He didn't earn much as a teacher, so he was happy to eat at his pupils' homes. According to the customs of the country, he also lived at the houses of the farmers whose children he taught. He stayed at one place for a week, then he lived at the house of another pupil and so on. He wasn't rich, his all possessions were tied in a cotton handkerchief.
He sometimes helped the farmers in the light labours. He helped to mend the fences, he took the horses to water, and cut wood for the winter. He also earned a little money as a singing-master.
He also had time to visit the ladies of the town and tell them stories. Women like to listen to him, because he read a lot of books and knew a lot of stories. His most favourite book was Cotton Mather's "History of New England Witchcraft", in which he also firmly believed. After school he often sat outside the schoolhouse and read the book until the evening and then he was very afraid of every sound of the nature. When he was afraid, he always started to sing, because he thought this would chase the ghosts and evil spirits away. He also liked sitting with old women of the town and listen to horror and ghost stories of the region. When he was on the way home in the evening, he was afraid of trees, wind and even the sound of his own footsteps.
However, the worst and most dangerous creature for him wasn't a ghost or a devil, it was a woman. Her name was Katrina Van Tassel. She was the daughter and only child of a Dutch farmer. She was 18, plump and she had rosy cheeks, long blond hair and big blue eyes. She wore nice dresses and gold jewels.
Her father, Baltus Van Tassel, was proud of his farm and his farmhouse, which was situated on the bank of the river Hudson. There was a beautiful elm tree next to the farmhouse and a little brook with willow trees on the banks. The farmhouse was very luxurious. There was a large hall in the centre of the house with mahogany tables, expensive chairs, cupboards with gold ornaments, and many beautiful decorations. Van Tassel owned a lot of pigs, geese and ducks, turkeys and chickens, horses and cows, and large fields of corn and wheat. When Ichabod saw all this, he imagined the delicious meals he could eat - apple pies, roast pigs, roast ducks, bacon, ham, sausages, and many others. Ichabod started to think how to win the heart of Katrina, the only heiress of Van Tassel's kingdom, marry her and become the owner of this luxurious place.
However, Ichabod wasn't the only man who wanted to win Katrina's heart. There were many. But the most important and dangerous was Brom Van Brunt. He was the hero of the region. He was very well-built and strong. He had broad shoulders, short curly black hair and arrogant behaviour. He was a very good horseman and together with his group of followers he often rode in the country and showed off his riding skill.
Ichabod couldn't openly try to fight for Katrina's heart, because Brom was much stronger and would kill him on the spot. Ichabod decided to court Katrina in a silent and quiet manner. Under cover of singing-master, he visited Katrina frequently.
Baltus Van Tassel and his wife liked their daughter more than anything else in the world and let her have what she wanted. They didn't like Brom, but if their daughter wanted to marry him, they wouldn't complain. However, women are full of riddles. Brom was indeed a handsome man, but he was also rough. And he couldn't match Ichabod's gentleness. Soon, Brom stopped visiting Katrina. Instead, he was angry with Ichabod and often threatened to beat him. And he, indeed, did some unpleasant things to him. Brom's group of riders often went to the peaceful schoolhouse, blocked the chimney so that the school was full of smoke and everybody had to run out. They also broke into the school at night and made a mess there. But the worst thing was when Brom made fun of Ichabod when he was with Katrina.
On a fine autumn afternoon, Ichabod was sitting in his school, reading a book to his students when suddenly a black man on a horse stopped outside the schoolhouse. He had a jacket, trousers, and a round hat. He came to invite Ichabod to a party in Van Tassel's house. Ichabod quickly ended his lesson and didn't even put books into the shelves. Ichabod dressed up nicely, combed his hair and shaved his face. He borrowed a horse from a farmer, because he wanted to look like a cavalier, and rode to Van Tassel's farm.
As he rode, he watched the nice country, listened to the birds and admired the colours of the leaves. With delight he saw trees with red apples, golden corn and yellow pumpkins. It was evening when he came to Van Tassel's farmhouse.
There was a huge party with a lot of people. All were nicely dressed, men in home-made coats, blue stockings, big boots and magnificent buckles. Women were in long dresses, home-made petticoats, straw hats and nice handbags. Brom came on his beautiful horse, which was so wild, that only Brom could manage to ride on it.
The tables in the farmhouse were full of tasty meals, various kinds of cakes and doughnuts, apple pies, peach pies and pumpkin pies, slices of ham and smoked beef, roast chickens, bowls of milk and cream, and delicious dishes of plums, peaches and pears.
Ichabod Crane was very happy to see all the delicious meals and while he was eating, he thought that maybe one day, he could be the owner of this luxurious house.
Then music started to play and people could dance. Ichabod was not only a singer, but he could also dance quite well. Everyone was looking and smiling at him as he was dancing with Katrina. But Brom wasn't looking at him. He was sitting in the corner, thinking what to do to Ichabod.
After the dance, Ichabod sat together with old men and they told stories from old times, especially about ghosts and strange things in the valley of Sleepy Hollow. They told the stories of strange noises at night, about Major Andre who was killed in the valley, about the woman in white that walked in the valley at night and also, of course, about the Headless Horseman. They spoke about old Brouwer, who didn't believe in ghosts and stories about them. But then he met the Headless Horseman. He started to run away but the Headless Horseman was very fast. Then he reached a wooden bridge and there the Headless Horseman changed into a skeleton, threw old Brouwer into the brook and disappeared.
Now Brom told his story. He also saw the Headless Horseman and offered to race with him. Brom could win the race because he had a better horse and was a better rider, but as they came to the church bridge, the Headless Horseman disappeared in a flash of fire.
After hearing these stories, Ichabod felt very afraid. Guests started to leave. Ichabod wanted to stay longer to be with Katrina, but she wasn't interested. It is difficult to understand women. And it is difficult to understand why Katrina suddenly didn't want to be with Ichabod. So he went for his horse and went home.
The night was very quiet. He could even hear dogs from the opposite side of the river Hudson. Sometimes he could hear a cricket or a frog nearby. All the stories of ghosts now came up in his mind. The night got darker and darker, the stars disappeared. He felt very lonely and depressed. And afraid. In the middle of the road there was a big tulip-tree. It was connected with the legend of Major Andre. As Ichabod came closer to the tree, he began to whistle, as he always did to chase ghosts away. As he came a little nearer, he thought he saw something white hanging in the middle of the tree. He stopped whistling. He looked at the white thing in the tree and he saw it was just a piece of white wood without a bark. Suddenly, he heard a groan. His teeth chattered and he hold the saddle tightly. But it was just the rubbing of one huge bough upon another in the wind. He passed the tree in safety.
About 200 yards from the tree, a small brook crossed the road and ran into Wiley's Swamp. Several logs across the brook served for the bridge. It was very difficult to cross the bridge. At this place some rogues attacked Major Andre a long time ago. As Ichabod came closer to the stream, his heart began to thump. He kicked his horse in the ribs and wanted to cross the bridge quickly. But the horse suddenly stopped before the bridge. Ichabod almost fell over the horse's head. And now Ichabod heard some noise on the other side of the brook. He looked in that direction. He saw something huge. Ichabod's hair rose on his head with terror. What was it? He wanted to turn around and run away, but his horse didn't want to move. With trembling voice he asked:
"Who are you?"
There was no reply. He asked again, more loudly.
"Who are you?!"
Still no answer. Ichabod started to whistle. The huge thing started to move and it was now in the middle of the road. Now Ichabod could see that the huge thing was a man on a black horse. Ichabod was very afraid. He didn't know what to do. He wanted to get home, so he took courage and slowly rode on the side of the road. But the horseman started to ride, too. Ichabod slowed down and thought that the horseman could continue and leave him alone. But the horseman slowed down, too! Ichabod's heart thumped quickly. He could hear his heart in the ears. When they got to an opening in the woods, Ichabod could see the horseman better. To his horror, he saw that the horseman was headless! And he carried his head on the saddle before him! It was the Headless Horseman!
Ichabod started to go mad. He kicked his horse and wanted to ride quickly past the Headless Horseman, but the rider started riding quickly, too. When they got to a crossroads, Ichabod's horse panicked and rode in the wrong direction to the valley of Sleepy Hollow, towards the church.!
In the middle of quick run, Ichabod's saddle fell off the horse, but Ichabod took the horse's neck firmly. Now he saw the brook. He knew he was close to the church bridge. He hoped to be safe there. He remembered the story that Brom told about the bridge. He hoped that the Headless Horseman would disappear there.
"If I can reach that bridge," thought Ichabod, "I am safe."
He kicked his horse in the ribs. The horse jumped and ran quickly to the other side of the bridge. Ichabod looked behind to see if the Headless Horseman disappeared. The horseman stopped, but didn't disappear. Instead, he threw his head at Ichabod! Ichabod wanted to evade the head, but it was too late. The head hit him and he fell off his horse.
The next morning they found the old horse without his saddle at his master's gate. Ichabod didn't appear at breakfast, not even at dinner. People started to look for him. After several hours they found Ichabod's saddle in the dirt. Ichabod's hat was nearby. Next to the hat there was a smashed pumpkin. They looked in the brook, in the forest, everywhere, but they couldn't find him. He disappeared in the valley of Sleepy Hollow.