Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

by Benson J. Lossing
Virtue & Yorston : New York 1866


Strange stories of ghosts in Sleepy Hollow were believed by all, and by none more implicitly than Ichabod. The chief goblin seen there was that of a Hessian trooper, whose head had been carried away by a cannon hall. This spectre was known all over the country as "The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow."

Ichabod was invited to a social evening party at the house of Van Tassel. He went with alacrity, and borrowed a lean horse called Gunpowder for the journey. Brom Bones was also there. When the company broke up, Ichabod lingered to have a few words with Katrina. He then bestrode Gunpowder, and started for home. When within half a mile of the old church, a horse and rider, huge, black, and mysterious, suddenly appeared by his side. The rider was headless, and to the horror of the pedagogue it was discovered that he carried his head in his hand, on the pommel of his saddle. Ichabod was half dead with fear. He urged Gunpowder forward to escape the demon, but in vain. The headless horseman followed. The walls of the old church appeared in the dim starlight of the midnight hour. The log bridge, in the deep shadows of the trees, was near. "If I can but reach that bridge," thought Ichabod, "I shall be safe." Just then he heard the black steed panting and blowing close behind him; he even fancied that he felt his hot breath. Another convulsive kick in the ribs and old Gunpowder sprang upon the bridge: he thundered over the resounding planks; he gained the opposite side; and now Ichabod cast a look behind to see if his pursuer would vanish, according to rule, in a flash of fire and brimstone.

Just then he saw the goblin rising in his stirrups, and in the very act of hurling his head at him. Ichabod endeavoured to dodge the horrible missile, but too late; it encountered his cranium with a terrible crash; he was tumbled headlong into the dust, and Gunpowder, the black steed, and the goblin rider, passed like a whirlwind. A shattered pumpkin was found in the road the next day, and Brom Jones not long afterwards led Katrina Van Tassel to the altar as his bride. Ichabod was never heard of afterwards. The people always believed he had been spirited away by the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow, who, on that occasion, some knowing once supposed to have been a being no more ghostly than Brom Bones himself.

Let us climb over this stile by the corner of the old church, into the yard where so many of the pilgrims of earth are sleeping. Here are mossy stones with half obliterated epitaphs, marking the graves of many early settlers, among whom is one, upon whose monumental slab it is recorded, that he lived until he was "one hundred and three years old," and had one hundred and twenty-four children and grandchildren at the time of his death! Let us pass on up this narrow winding path, and cross the almost invisible boundary between the old "graveyard" and the new "cemetery." Here, well up towards the summit of the hill near the "receiving vault," upon a beautiful sunny slope, is an enclosure made of iron bars and privet hedge, with open gate, inviting entrance. There in line stand several slabs of white marble, only two feet in height, at the head of as many oblong hillocks, covered with turf and budding spring flowers. Upon one of these, near the centre, we read:--

NOV. 28, 1859

This is the grave of the immortal Geoffrey Crayon! * Upon it lie wreaths of withered flowers, which have been killed by frosts, and buried by drifts of lately departed snow. These will not long remain, for all summer long fresh and fragrant ones are laid upon that honoured grave by fair hands that pluck them from many a neighbouring garden. Here, at all times, these sweet tributes of affection may be seen, when the trees are in leaf.

* In the Episcopal Church at Tarrytown, in which Mr. Irving was a communicant for many years, a small marble tablet has been places by the vestry, with an appropriate inscription to his memory.

This lovely burial spot, from which may be seen Sleepy Hollow, the ancient church, the sparkling waters of the Po-can-te-co, spreading out into a little lake above the picturesque old dam at the mill of Castle Philipse, Sleepy Hollow Haven, Tappan Bay and all its beautiful surroundings, was chosen long ago by the illustrious author of the "Sketch-Book," as his final resting-place. Forty years ago, in Birmingham, three thousand miles away from the spot where his remains now repose, and long before he even dreamed of converting Wolfert's Roost into Sunnyside, he wrote thus concerning Sleepy Hollow, in his introduction to the legend:--

"Not far from this village [Tarrytown], perhaps about two miles, there is a little valley, or rather a lap of land, among high hills, which is one of the quietest places in the whole world. A small brook glides through it, with just murmur enough to lull one to repose; and the occasional whistle of a quail, or tapping of a woodpecker, is almost the only sound that ever breaks in upon the uniform tranquillity..... If ever I should wish for a retreat, whither I might steal from the world and its distractions, and dream quietly away the remnant of a troubled life, I know of none more promising than this little valley."

When, more than a dozen years ago, the Tarrytown Cemetery was laid out, Mr. Irving chose the plot of ground where his remains now lie, for his family burial-place. A few years later, when the contents of the grave and vaults in the burial-ground of the "Brick Church" in New York, were removed, the remains of his family were taken to this spot and interred. A gentleman who accompanied me to the grave, superintended the removal. Mr. Irving had directed the remains to be so disposed as to allow himself to lie by the side of his mother. And when the burial was performed, the good old man stood thoughtfully for awhile, leaning against a tree, and looking into his mother's grave, as it was slowly filled with the earth. Then covering his face with his hands he wept as tenderly as a young child. According to his desire he now rests by the side of that mother, whom he loved dearly; and at his own left hand is reserved a space for his only surviving brother, General Ebenezer Irving, ten years his senior, who yet (1866) resides at Sunnyside at the age of about ninety-four years.

The remains of Mr. Irving's old Scotch nurse were, at his request, buried in the same grave with his mother. Of this faithful woman Mr. Irving once said,--"I remember General Washington perfectly. There was some occasion when he appeared in a public procession; my nurse, a good old Scotch woman, was very anxious for me to see him, and held me up in her arms as he rode past. This, however, did not satisfy her; so the next day, when walking with me in Broadway, she espied him in a shop; she seized my hand, and darting in, exclaimed in her bland Scotch,--'Please your excellency, here's a bairn that's called after ye!' General Washington then turned his benevolent face full upon me, smiled, laid his hand upon my head, and gave me his blessing, which," added Mr. Irving, "I have reason to believe has attended me through life. I was but five years old, yet I can feel that hand upon my head even now." Mr. Irving's last and greatest literary work was an elaborate life of Washington, in five octavo volumes.

We have observed that the Po-can-te-co, flowing through Sleepy Hollow, spreads out into a pretty little lake above an ancient and picturesque dam, near the almost as ancient church. This little lake extends back almost to the bridge in the dark weird glen, and furnishes motive power to a very ancient mill that stands close by Philipse Castle, as the more ancient manor-house of the family was called. The first lord of an extensive domain in this vicinity, purchased from the Sachem Goharius, in 1680, and which was confirmed by royal patent the same year, was a descendant of the ancient Viscounts Felyps, of Bohemia, who took an active part in favour of John Huss and Jerome of Prague. Here, at the mouth of the Po-can-te-co, he erected a strong stone house, with port and loop holes for cannon and musketry, and also a mill, about the year 1683. Because of its heavy ordnance, it was called Castle Philipse. At that time the extensive marsh and meadow land between it and the present railway was a fine bay, and quite large vessels bore freight to and from the mill. Here, and at the lower manor-house at Yonkers, the lords of Philipse's Manor lived in a sort of feudal state for almost a century, enjoying exclusive social and political privileges. The proprietor in possession when the war for independence broke out, espoused the cause of the crown. His estates were confiscated, and a relative of the family,

Gerardus Beekman, became the purchaser of the castle and many broad acres adjoining it. In that family it remained until the spring of 1860 (about three quarters of a century), when Mr. Storm, the present proprietor, purchased it. Beckman made a large addition to the Castle. In our little picture it is seen as it appeared in the time of the Philipses. In the basement wall, near the rear of the building, may be seen a porthole in which the muzzle of a cannon was seen for full half a century, as a menace to any hostile intruders who might come up Po-can-te-co Bay, which is now filled with earth, and is a fine marsh meadow.

Upon an eminence eastward of Philipse Castle and the ancient church, whose base is washed by the Po-can-te-co, is Irving Park, a domain of about one hundred acres, which was laid out by Charles H. Lyon, Esq., for the purpose of villa sites, that should have all the advantages of highly ornamented grounds, pleasant neighbourhood, retirement, and extensive and varied views of a beautiful country, at a moderate expense. From this hill, and its river slopes, comprehensive views may be had of some of the most charming scenery of the lower Hudson. From its summit, overlooking Sleepy Hollow, the eye commands a sweep of the Hudson from New York to the Highlands, a distance of fifty miles, and views in five or six counties in the States of New York and New Jersey. From the veranda of one of the cottages in the park, most charming glimpses may be obtained of portions of the village of Tarrytown,* near, with its wharf and railway station; and of the palisades below Piermont, the village of Piermont and its pier jutting into the Hudson a mile from the shore, the village of Rockland (formerly Sneden's Landing), and the intervening river with its numerous water-craft. Our little picture of that scene gives some idea of the delights of a residence within Irving Park, afforded by broad views of nature in its lovely aspects, and the teeming commerce of a great river. Besides these attractions there are pleasant views of the Po-can-te-co, as it dashes through Sleepy Hallow in swift rapids and sparkling cascades, from various portions of the park. And all of these, with the pleasant roads and paths, belong to the owners of dwellings within the park. The proprietor of an acre of ground and his family may take their morning walk or evening drive through miles of varied scenery, without going into the public road, and with the agreeable consciousness of being on their own premises.

* The natives called this place A-lip-conck, or Place of Elms, that tree having been abundant there in early times, and still flourishes. The Dutch called it Terwen Dorp, or Wheat Town, because that cereal grew luxuriantly upon the Greenburgh Hills and valleys around. As usual, the English retained a part of the Dutch name, and called it Terwe Town, from which is derived the modern pronunciation, Tarrytown. In the legend of "Sleepy Hollow," Mr. Irving says,--"The name was given, we are told, in former days by the good housewives of the adjacent country, from the inveterate propensity of their husbands to linger about the village taverns on market days." So they called it Tarrytown.

Soon after leaving the Po-can-te-co, on the way towards Tarrytown, a fine monument of white Westchester marble, about twenty-five feet in height, is seen at the side of the highway, and on the margin of a little stream called André's Brook. It is surrounded by an iron railing, and upon a tablet next to the road is the following inscription, which explains the object of the monument:--

"On this spot, the 22nd day of September, 1780, the spy, Major John André, Adjutant-general of the British army, was captured by John Paulding, David Williams, and Isaac Van Wart, all natives of this county. History has told the rest.

"The people of Westchester County have erected this Monument, as well to commemorate a great event as to testify their high estimation of that integrity and patriotism which, rejecting every temptation, rescued the United States from most imminent peril, by baffling the arts of a Spy and the plots of a Traitor. Dedicated October 7, 1853."

The land on which this monument stands was given for the purpose, by William Taylor, a coloured man, who lives in a neat cottage close by, surrounded by ornamented grounds, through which flows André's Brook. Hon. Henry J. Raymond, editor of the New York Daily Times, addressed the multitude on the occasion of the dedication. Monuments of white marble have been erected to the memory of two of the captors of André, over their respective remains. That to Paulding is in the burial-ground of St. Peter's Church, near Peck's Kill. It was erected by the corporation of the city of New York, as "a memorial sacred to PUBLIC GRATITUDE." William Paulding, then mayor of New York, addressed the assembled citizens on the occasion of its dedication, November 22, 1827. The monument to the memory of Van Wart is over his remains in the Greenburgh Presbyterian Church, near the lovely Neperan river, a few miles from Tarrytown. It was dedicated on the 11th of June, 1829, when the assembled citizens were addressed by General Aaron Ward, of Sing Sing. The monument was erected by the citizens of Westchester County. The remains of Williams are at Livingstonville, Schoharie County; no monument has yet been erected over them.

"History has told the rest," says the inscription upon the monument. In the next Chapter we will observe what history says.

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