Named for our first president, author Washington Irving is best known for writing two mystical tales of fiction. Both took place in an area of upstate New York some call the most haunted place on earth. “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” have been entertaining (and scaring) readers since they were first published in 1819-1820. Despite the fact that he did not visit there until some years later, much of Irving’s inspiration for these two, popular short stories were the natural surroundings and well-known, somnolent atmosphere of Tarrytown and the Catskill Mountains. Rip van Winkle’s legendary nap may be in keeping with the gentle, easy-going mood of this lovely region, but you’ll want to stay awake every single minute you are there, because there is so much to do and enjoy.
Old Dutch Church and Burial Ground
Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.
Built around 1685, this ancient church and its three-acre burial ground were penned by Irving as the final resting place of Ichabod Crane’s nemesis, the Headless Horseman. Rumor has it he rides there to this day. Ghost sightings aside, the church is a fascinating example of Dutch Colonial Revival architecture and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Many people thought to have inspired Irving’s writings are buried here.
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.
Washington Irving shares his final resting place with Andrew Carnegie, Elizabeth Arden and Leona Helmsley, as well as other famous folk in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, which is adjacent to the Old Dutch Church burial ground. Self-guided and guided tours include interesting glimpses into the cemetery’s art and sculpture as well as a 112-year old, underground receiving vault. You may not run into the Headless Horseman in this cemetery, but will still enjoy the spookily popular, lantern-lit tours during the early evening hours and themed tours, such as the ghoulishly delightful Murder and Mayhem Tour, which includes the scene of a grave robbery.
Located right on the border of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, this historical park is the site where infamous British spy, John Andre, was apprehended and charged with aiding traitor Benedict Arnold’s attempt to surrender the fort at West Point to the British. Captured by armed militia men, Andre’s downfall is memorialized by the Captor’s Monument and a statue of one of the local men who helped to procure his capture, John Paulding. Other statues in the park include a more modern depiction of Christopher Columbus. The park provides a pleasant respite for children with several fun play areas and brooks. This lovely four-acre expanse sits next to the Warner Library, a repository of local historical documents and the site of many special events and lectures, centering on the local lore and other topics of interest.
Designed by Washington Irving and built over several decades, Sunnyside and its gently rolling grounds celebrate Irving and his respect for nature and love of art. Irving created a paradise of garden paths, vistas and vines overlooking the magnificent Hudson. Meant to be the marital home for fiancé Matilda, who died tragically before their wedding, Sunnyside’s grounds are thought to be haunted by her ghost, who never set foot inside the cottage. It is said that she is kept company by several other apparitions, including Irving himself and his five nieces. Sunnyside contains many authentic furnishings, which remained in the Irving family, and is available to be toured today. Make sure to include a stop in nearby Irvington on your visit to see the bronze, life-sized sculpture of Rip Van Winkle awakening from his 20 year slumber.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.