“To look upon its grass grown yard, where the sunbeams seem to sleep so quietly, one would think that there at least the dead might rest in peace.” – Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
There are two Sleepy Hollow Cemeteries of note. There’s the one up in Concord, Massachusetts with it’s Author’s Ridge populated with the bones of Thoreau, Emerson, Alcott and others. And then there’s the one here on the shores of the Hudson River, where the wealthy vacated the city for one last time and tried to one-up each other in death with grand mausoleums as their final statement about how rich and powerful they were.
Those rich folks can wait in their eternity. For there’s really only one name that matters when you talk about Sleepy Hollow, the guy who put it on the map: Washington Irving. Irving wrote two of the most familiar short stories in our cultural memory: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle.
It’s that tale of the headless horseman that inspires people to visit his grave at the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Irving is buried in the oldest section of the graveyard, with unpaved roads crisscrossing un-mowed plots with headstones protruding up in neat columns. That walk up the hill to visit his grave seemed perfect. Like walking back in time to visit those who came before us.
I didn’t visit out of some ghoulish fascination with his short story, but for the whispers you hear at their resting place. Cemeteries generally hold the lay of the land as it was on the day they buried someone, and Irving’s resting place nestled amongst his family on a hill overlooking the Hudson River Valley seems a lovely place to spend eternity.
Of course, Irving doesn’t need to whisper, for he wrote plenty for us to draw on. His stories will likely outlast every gravestone in Sleepy Hollow. Does that make him a legend?