Irving demonstrated a penchant for using the names of people he met in everyday life; one place he visited often, the Dutch village of Bergen in New Jersey (now part of Jersey City) is the site of several old cemeteries, within which are buried many persons bearing the last name of Van Winkle, a name Irving used for another of his famous characters, Rip Van Winkle.
The character of Ichabod Crane is apparently based on a real person by the same name, whom Irving became acquainted with while in the military. Washington Irving met Ichabod Crane when they were both serving in the United States Army. Ichabod Crane was a Captain, and Washington Irving was a Colonel. Irving used Mr. Merlin from Kinderhook, N. Y. as Ichabod's schoolteacher character. In the story, after the pumpkin was thrown and Ichabod disappeared, Ichabod Crane went to New York City and became a judge, lawyer, and politician. Sam Young is the character Ichabod Crane, after the pumpkin was thrown. Sam Young did legal work for Washington Irving. The real life Ichabod Crane is said to have been quite offended by Irving's use of his name, and remained so until his death (several sites have been reputed to be Crane's final resting place, but the one which seems to be the most historically probable is a tombstone within a cemetery in Staten Island, New York, many miles away from Sleepy Hollow). Indeed, Irving demonstrated a penchant for using the names of people he met in everyday life; one place he visited often, the Dutch village of Bergen in New Jersey (now part of Jersey City) is the site of several old cemeteries, within which are buried many persons bearing the last name of Van Winkle, a name Irving used for another of his famous characters, Rip Van Winkle.
In "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," Washington Irving wrote that Brom Bones was his nickname. The character Brom Bones was a strong, young, muscular guy who rode a black stallion that was faster than all the other horses. In searching for Brom's name, it was discovered that Brom is a nickname for Abraham. The village blacksmith's name was Abraham Martling, he was always around horses, he was strong and muscular. Brom's character was inspired by this blacksmith, Abraham Martling. Whenever a shoe on Washington Irving's horse fell off, he would go to Abraham (Brom) Martling who would put it back on. Abraham Martling, the blacksmith, had a magnificent black horse, similar to the one in the story.
Katrina Van Tassel
When Washington Irving was a 15- year-old boy, he would go to the Old Dutch Church and sit in the west balcony. One day while he was sitting inside, he saw a face on a gravestone out the window. He went outside to investigate. Because the sun was setting, it had created shadows on the face of a gravestone making it look 3-dimensional. The name on the gravestone was Catriena Van Tassel, and her husband was named Petrus Van Tassel. Later, Irving would remember this name and use it for "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," changing the spelling to Katrina. As Washington Irving sat in the west balcony, he liked to look over to the north balcony at a beautiful 18-year-old girl who was Catriena's niece.
The actual sources of Irving's inspiration for the tale are somewhat murky. Some biographical sources say that as a boy, Irving played among the tombstones in the Sleepy Hollow cemetery and it was there that an African-American undertaker first told him stories about a headless horseman. Other writers have suggested that Irving based his character on a German folktale. One of the more plausible explanations, however, says that while Irving was in New Jersey, doing research for his biography of George Washington, he came across a local legend dating back to the American Revolution, a legend involving a Hessian soldier who was slaughtered in what is now the "Devil's Den" area of the Great Swamp Region in Morris and Somerset Counties. The Hessian was apparently killed by the Continental Army, his head nearly severed, left hanging by a thread. The apparition of a headless soldier on horseback has been reported over the years by residents of the area, and it is this legend which Irving seems to have appropriated for his tale.
The German Folktale
A HEADLESS HORSEMAN
In Scotland members of the MacLaine clan from the district of Lochbuie shun the nocturnal sound of clattering hooves and a jingling bridle. They fear the sight of a spectral horse bearing a headless rider who forebodes death.
The name of the rider is Ewen of the Little Head. Ewen was the son and heir of a MacLaine chief, but the son envied the father's wealth and fell to feuding with him. There was much inconclusive bickering between the two men, and at last both parties sought to settle the matter by force of arms. In 1538 father and son led their partisans into battle, and the son was beheaded by one of his father's followers. From that time into the twentieth century, many witnesses have told how the headless Ewen rides to harvest the souls of Lochbuie MacLaines.
Ironically, this messenger of doom supposedly had a chilling omen of his own death. According to one story, on the evening before the fatal skirmish, Ewen met up with the Faery Washing-Woman, a Scottish folklore figure akin to the Irish banshee and the Welsh "Hag of the Dribble". On the eve of battles, it was her dire function to wash blood from the garments of combatants who were destined to die. Ewen was walking along a stream when he saw the old woman crouched by the water, rinsing a pile of blood-stained shirts. He asked her if his own shirt was there, and the hag replied that it was. But he might avoid his doom, she added, if the next morning his wife, with no prompting, served him butter with breakfast. Unfortunately, Ewen's wife was an indifferent cook, and no butter appeared on the table. The luckless man stoically munched his dry bread, then rode to battle that morning knowing he would not ride home that night.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -
Wow! What a ride!