Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Historically Annotated Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Henry John Steiner

This book contains Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, accompanied by Henry John Steiner’s footnotes, maps, illustrations and photographs of the exact locale in which the story takes place. Mr. Steiner, long-time resident and historian of Sleepy Hollow, makes clear his love of Irving’s classic tale, and also displays a strong awareness of the importance of the story’s setting in an historic time and place in American history.

Irving’s charming and ghostly story, beloved by generations of Americans, is a meticulous re-creation of a world that had already changed considerably from the time that he first encountered it, at the age of 15, to the time that the book was published some 20 odd years later in 1820. Irving surely had a strong awareness of the ephemeral and transitory nature of life, and his haunting tale is a wonderful evocation of a lost world that he sought to preserve for posterity. 

With this book, Mr. Steiner continues Irving’s original impetus to elucidate and preserve a certain time and place—he fixes the coordinates of all the locations in the story and maps them out for us with illustrations and photographs. He points us to the exact location of the old Van Tassel house—shows us where the great tulip tree once stood—and the route along the Post Road that Ichabod Crane took on his ill-fated ride. He also traces the possible and probable real life inspirations for all the major characters in the story.

The past does not merely slip away as if on a gentle stream—no, it is rendered by pick-axe and plough—assaulted by chain-saw and wrecker’s ball—buried—paved over—and should consider itself extremely fortunate if any of its particulars happen to be noted on a modest plaque or marker. It is a great miracle, for example, that the Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow still stands—it being the exception rather than the rule. This relentless destruction underlines the importance of Mr. Steiner's book—it reminds us to remember our past, because the past slips away from us continuously.

Ghosts crowd the old roads and paths of Sleepy Hollow—they outnumber the living—and affect us in strange and unknowable ways.

Mr. Steiner wants us to know where we are—where we tread—and remind us of people and places that went before us. 

~Brian Sp├Ąth, 2015

—Buy the book here.
—Visit the author's Headless Horseman Blog