Irving’s most famous works “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle” are prime examples of Irving’s delight with the supernatural in everyday American life. The realistic depiction of quintessential, small town America in his works defined Irving as a vivid and engaging writer. His legacy lives on in New York for many reasons. He was the first to call New York City “Gotham”, and his pseudonym “Diedrich Knickerbocker” inspired New York’s basketball team, the Knicks.
|Irving bust in Bryant Park 1914|
Many of his stories played off the mysterious nature of secluded small towns in the newly established United States. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” from his collection of short stories called The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. is still taught around the world as an example of original American literature. The story is set in the Dutch settlement of Tarry Town in 1790 that is notorious for its ghosts and the haunting atmosphere that pervades the peace of the area. Who can forget the Headless Horseman, who is said to be a Hessian trooper decapitated by a stray cannonball in the midst of “some nameless battle” during the Revolutionary War. He “rides for to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head,” wherein lies the origin of Ichabod’s demise. The tale of the young pedagogue’s life in the quaint town includes love and chivalry, but most of all mystery. It has been said that Ichabod was “spirited away by supernatural means” after an encounter with the Horseman. The old wives of the town perpetuate the story of his disappearance and the sightings of his melancholy spirit. It is said that modern day Tarrytown, New York has the same irksome aura of the supernatural and its omnipresence.
The story of Rip Van Winkle is also set in New York’s country side, specifically the Catskill Mountains both pre- and post- Revolutionary War. Rip Van Winkle, an amiable man who is noted as being loathsome of “profitable labor”, is a man who enjoys solitary activities in the wilderness. Despite his introverted nature, he is loved by everyone in his village, especially children to whom he tells stories to and makes toys. Van Winkle’s well-liked disposition, however, did not compensate for his aversion to gainful labor. Dame Van Winkle constantly reminds him of this fact and chastises his negligence that has led to a dilapidated home and farm. In order to escape her chiding, Van Winkle takes a hike in the woods with his dogs and suddenly hears his name being called. He sees a man wearing antiquated Dutch clothing who asks for Rip’s help. When they arrive at their destination, a group of similarly clad men is found. Rip drinks their liquor and falls asleep. When he awakens, however, it appears to be morning, but his gun is rusted out, his beard is a foot long, and his dog is nowhere to be found. Van Winkle returns to his villages only to discover that his wife has died, and his close friends have been killed in the American Revolution. Rip learns that the men he had encountered were the ghosts of Henry Hudson’s crew. In addition, he had been away from the village for twenty years! Once Rip finds his now adult daughter and settles in, he continues his idleness and revels in his good luck of sleeping through the hardships of war.
|Mr. Irving en route to Washing Square Park 1934|