A classic tale of horror….The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

It’s the start of a new academic year at UrbanPromise Trenton and the UPT StreetLeaders are preparing for autumn with America’s first canonical author, Washington Irving, and a collection of his short stories.

Before they could journey the Hudson River Valley of the early 19th century, SLs set out to learn more about the author. They read a 2010 introduction to Irving penned by Stefan Dziemianowicz. Afterward, Ky’Liyah Clark noted that Irving was one of the first Americans to write a short story in literary form. He was also one of the earliest American writers of fiction, and Irving’s stories were so well received that they made their way across the Atlantic serving as some of the first entries into the American Literary Canon. While these accomplishments justify reading Irving within a classroom setting, SL Director Elyse Smith had some fun with Irving’s notorious antagonist from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, the headless horseman, and planned a field trip pumpkin picking in early October. There’s no better way to pick pumpkins on a crisp, autumn afternoon than looking over one’s shoulder for the headless Hessian who terrorized Ichabod Crane.

Ichabod Crane is an outsider, and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is the story of an outsider. Perhaps the reader gets a sense that Irving likes his protagonist, even roots for him, knowing full well that Ichabod cannot adequately compete against his rival Brom Van Brunt, commonly known as BROM BONES. Neither man complements the other. Ichabod is severely tall, slender and lanky, not unlike a scarecrow fighting to stay intact against a stiff breeze, and BROM is broad-shouldered, thick, hulking, immovable and arrogant. While BROM is the hero of the small Dutch town mastering rustic life, Ichabod shamelessly often walks with his nose in a book. A comical man, both to look at and in mannerism, Ichabod either does not know, nor care to know, how a man is supposed to behave; nor does he understand that the town darling, Katrina Van Tassel, has already been promised to BROM. Not by courtship nor vows, not even by declaration from her father, but by the maxim that is older than these United States, older even than western culture and traditions, the overtly powerful win.

Ichabod was concocted in the wrong era. He belongs in a John Hughes-style ‘80s film where the script is flipped and the overtly powerful do not get their way simply because they believed they are entitled to it. This is why he was Irving’s champion, why the reader can’t help but root for him, and it is why this September and October the StreetLeaders of UrbanPromise Trenton will discover a new kind of hero, one who does not have to win.