Tabitha “Abby” Crane, a doctoral student working on her thesis, doesn’t allow herself much time outside academia. Fortunately, she’s managed to squeeze in a research trip over Halloween weekend to the historical society of Sleepy Hollow, New York, where she hopes to uncover new research on the notorious town’s most infamous legend—that of the headless horseman.
Published: October 9th, 2015
Tabitha “Abby” Crane, a doctoral student working on her thesis, doesn’t allow herself much time outside academia. Fortunately, she’s managed to squeeze in a research trip over Halloween weekend to the historical society of Sleepy Hollow, New York, where she hopes to uncover new research on the notorious town’s most infamous legend—that of the headless horseman. But she has a personal stake in this trip: Abby’s own ancestor, Ichabod Crane, disappeared mysteriously over two hundred years ago, perhaps at the hands of the ghostly horseman.
Abby has no reason to expect anything of Sleepy Hollow beyond immersing herself in archival collections and enjoying its Halloween festivities, but then she crosses paths with Katie, who makes her head spin and her heart pound. When Katie invites her on a nighttime visit to the glen where the horseman allegedly rides, Abby can’t say no, upending her plans for a quiet research retreat. And when Abby and Katie, who has her own ties to the famous story, find what may be the key to the disappearance of Ichabod Crane all those years ago, love, legend, and magic intermingle, making clear that Sleepy Hollow has plans of its own for yet another Crane.
Galloping your way next month! Stay tooooned!
Abby parked in a space practically in front of the Sleepy Hollow Historical Society, a one-story unremarkable brick building with a plain glass door. It blended well with the other structures, a mixture of brick and clapboard. The city fathers probably wanted to maintain a quaint, small-town charm in addition to the appeal of the village’s historical significance, which included its paranormal allure.
Abby picked up the book from the passenger seat and opened it to the page she’d flagged with a Post-it note, to the story in this collection that teased her some days, haunted her others. How many times had she read this damn story, looking for clues to her own history? The title seemed to both mock and entice her. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Did Washington Irving have any idea, when this story was published in 1820, how it would wend its way into the American psyche? How the legend of the headless horseman in this corner of New York and the disappearance of Ichabod Crane would spawn first speculation and later, movies?
She doubted it. No writer imagines that, even though Irving got a taste of it when he was alive, enjoying acclaim in the States and Europe. Abby flipped through the pages until she came to the first appearance of Katrina van Tassel, daughter of Baltus, one of the wealthiest men in Sleepy Hollow in the late 18th century. The Van Tassels were one of the founding families here, and when Ichabod arrived in 1799, Katrina immediately caught his attention.
And then he disappeared one October night. Irving left this event open to speculation. Was it the headless horseman that haunted the area since the Revolutionary War who caused it? Or a cruel joke perpetrated by another of Katrina’s suitors, Abraham van Brunt, known as Brom Bones? Regardless, Ichabod disappeared in Irving’s story and from the historical record, leaving behind the legend of the headless horseman. And, Abby thought, lots and lots of questions.
She got out of the car, still holding the book, and stretched. Though the late afternoon sun was warm, she grabbed her sweatshirt out of the back seat and put it on. This late in October, Abby knew the evening would be cool. Her laptop bag was on the floor behind the driver’s seat and she slipped the book into it then slung the bag over her shoulder and locked the car.
An elderly man strolled past with a tiny dog dressed in an equally tiny blue sweater. He nodded at her and she smiled back. The dog glanced once at her, but clearly wasn’t interested in stopping for a pat from a stranger. It had other business to conduct, like sniffing a nearby tree, whose leaves were a blaze of fall colors.
Abby approached the historical society and hesitated at the front door, her attention caught by a poster hanging on it below the open sign. The poster advertised the Sleepy Hollow Halloween festival, which was this weekend. The graphics included a creepy bridge, jack o’ lanterns, and a galloping horse whose rider had no head. She stared at it for a few moments and thought about Washington Irving, writing the story that would be the root of all of this hype, and the cause of her current fascination with American folklore. She wondered, if the horseman weren’t tied up in her own family’s history, would she care as much about Sleepy Hollow and its history? Probably not.
A soft tone like a doorbell sounded somewhere in the back, when Abby entered, but it wasn’t necessary because a woman stood at the counter, engaged with a stack of papers. She wore a faded denim shirt and her dark hair, streaked with gray, was pulled back from her face.
The woman looked up over the rims of her reading glasses and smiled. “Hi, there. How can I help you?” She took her glasses off and set them on the counter.
“Hi. I’m Abby Crane.” Abby unfastened the clasp of her bag. “I made an appointment a month ago to do some research here and I confirmed with someone—I think it was Robert—on Monday.” She pulled a business card out of her bag and handed it over.
“Of course. Ms. Crane.” The woman picked up the card and glanced at it. “Tabitha.” She looked back at Abby. “There’s a name you don’t see every day.”
“It has yet to make a comeback,” Abby said with a smile. She got a comment every time, when people realized her full name wasn’t Abigail.
“It’s a lovely name.” She set the card on the counter. “You made the original appointment with me. I’m Luanne, but most everybody calls me Lu. How was your drive?”
“Fine. I just thought I’d come by before you closed to introduce myself.” Abby re-fastened her bag.
“You didn’t have to do that, but I do appreciate it. Where are you staying?”
“The Maple Tree Inn.”
Lu smiled again. “Then you’ve already met Eleanor. She volunteers here. A font of information about local lore.” The phone rang. “One moment,” she said.
Abby nodded as Lu answered and used the time Lu was talking to have a look around. The interior of the building was sleek and modern, unlike its brick exterior. This was an older building, completely refurbished, and painted in a ubiquitous museum-style shade of white, but the track lighting created a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
Several display cases decorated the adjoining room, some on the walls and larger ones in the middle of the room. All but one held historic artifacts, including tools, daily implements, and explanatory cards that provided provenance and significance in the community. Sleepy Hollow was closely linked to Tarrytown. North Tarrytown had actually renamed itself Sleepy Hollow in 1999 in honor of Washington Irving’s story. But the focus in this room was on the agricultural and manufacturing base of the city, made ideal because the Hudson River was so close. Plus, its natural beauty had drawn lots of people, including the elite. The Rockefellers had a house here.
The remaining display cases focused on prehistory, and included artifacts from the local Indian tribe that had occupied the area prior to white settlement. They’d done a good job setting it up, Abby thought. Someone had put a lot of thought into the choice of artifacts and how to display them, as well as what to write in the descriptions. It was better than some larger museums she’d been to.
She was about to go into the second room when Lu joined her.
“We’ve tried to ensure that we don’t forget the people who were here in this area before us.” Lu motioned at the prehistory case. “We maintain relationships with current tribes, and they graciously send us people to give talks throughout the year. Always well-attended, I might add.” Lu slipped her hands into the back pockets of her jeans. “History is important in places like this. Many of the people currently living here can trace their roots back to the original settlement. And a few can trace to a tribe.” A smile twitched at the corner of Lu’s lips. “People are people,” she said. “They tend to mix and mingle no matter what the conventional wisdom suggests. Of course, it’s very different in some ways here now. We’re a bedroom community for people who commute into Manhattan, but we’re pleased that we’ve been able to maintain a small town sort of ethos.”
Abby smiled back. She liked Lu’s vibe. Professional but approachable. Abby guessed she, too, was serious about history. “Who did the displays here? They’re great.”
“All of us had a hand in them. Robert and Eleanor and a few other volunteers helped me with the artifacts. Robert’s better with turns of phrase, so he did most of the informational cards. I did the brunt of the arranging within the cases.”
Abby nodded. “They’re really excellent.”
“Good to know that graduate degree in museum studies I got paid off, eh?” Lu winked at her.
“So you’re saying there’s hope for me outside academia?”
Lu grinned. “You never know where life will take you. At any rate, the materials you’ve requested we keep in the vault.” She laughed at Abby’s expression. “That’s what we call it. It’s our climate controlled storage area. We bring materials up to the reading room.”
“Wow. Could I see the storage area?”
“Certainly. Tomorrow morning. Go ahead and finish looking around. I have to do a few things before we close up. Let me know if you’d like a more in-depth explanation of anything.”
Lu returned to the counter and Abby walked slowly through the second room, which led to a small third room that was designed for showing films. Six long carpeted benches faced a blank screen. A sign explained that the movie—a documentary that provided an overview of the history of the area—showed every hour at the top of the hour and lasted twenty minutes. The last showing was at four each afternoon. Abby had arrived at four-thirty. Sometimes the short films at historical societies were informative. Other times, not so much. Maybe some day she’d do a documentary on Sleepy Hollow, and it would show here, too.
She moved to the display cases that she hadn’t seen. One held her attention. “Ghostly Legends,” the sign on this case said. A pen-and-ink drawing in the style of the eighteenth century depicted a man on a black horse. He was dressed in a uniform—presumably for war—and he held a long sword. The information card next to the drawing provided a short paragraph about him, and referred to him as “The Hessian.”
Abby knew the legend by heart. This particular Hessian soldier had come to the Sleepy Hollow area, where he fought for American forces against the British in the Revolutionary War. He died, the legend suggested, when his head was shot off by a cannon ball during a battle and he rode after death, the headless horseman of Sleepy Hollow. She studied the drawing, but there was no indication in the man’s features that he was the type of guy to ride long after death looking for his missing head. She’d always wondered why he’d want it back after a cannon ball got through with it. Seemed like a wasted effort. But there was no accounting for the motivations of ghosts, or, more importantly, the development of a great story.
She took the book out of her bag and reread Irving’s description of Ichabod’s encounter with the horseman. Gigantic in height, Irving had written, and the horseman’s head rested on the pommel of his saddle. That’s what he had thrown at Ichabod, the story went, and it hit him and then...he was gone, from the legend and the historical record.
Abby put the book back into her bag. The other ghostly legends included references to the Hollow as a place brimming with paranormal activity since the Dutch settled it. Another suggested an Indian medicine man may have been responsible for imbuing the area with lots of otherworldly powers. Regardless, the information cards said, “rumors of spectral sightings and strange occurrences are woven into the fabric of Sleepy Hollow.”
Which made for a fascinating community study for her dissertation – how certain places were shaped by beliefs in paranormal phenomena that had become part of the local and regional history. It helped, of course, that she had an ancestor who was part of one of those legends.
Abby returned to the counter. “Thanks,” she said to Lu. “See you tomorrow.” She turned to go.
“Do you have plans for dinner?”
Abby stopped and looked over in surprise. “No, not really.”
“Would you like to join me and Eleanor for a bite? You can get an earful of local lore. Some of it is true.” She smiled.
“Wonderful. How about in an hour? You can walk to the restaurant with Eleanor. It’s only a couple blocks from the Maple Tree.”
“Sounds great. Thank you so much.” Abby started for the front door, guessing that Lu probably wanted to close up.
“We historian-types love to chat each other up. See you soon.” She closed the door behind Abby and flipped the sign to “Closed.”
Abby returned to her car, but she didn’t get in right away. Instead, she stood and admired the town. She looked back toward downtown, thinking that this could be a classic New England village postcard. A group of kids with backpacks had congregated outside what looked like a bakery across the street. Abby estimated them as junior-high age. Some of the trees that lined the street still retained their fall colors, rich reds and yellows trembling in the breeze. As Abby watched, a few let go of their moorings and fell to the sidewalks and street.
Banners for the annual Halloween festival hung over the streets, attached to the black Victorian-style lampposts on either side. The closest one included a black horse rearing up on its hind legs in the banner’s center, and its black-clothed rider held a leering jack-o’-lantern in his upraised hand. The rider had no head. A chill shot down her spine, a sense of expectation and something else she couldn’t name.
“Will you stay for the celebration?” Lu asked, and Abby tore her gaze away from the picture on the banner to look at her. She had put on a jean jacket and had a backpack slung over one shoulder. She gripped the handles of a tote bag filled with books in one hand.
“I was planning on it, yes.”
“It’s quite a spectacle. Sort of a combined harvest festival and nod to Samhain, and we do have quite a frightening haunted house here in town. We have our own addition, of course.” Lu looked at the banner. “The rider begins his rounds usually around eight-thirty or nine, so the younger kids can get a look at him before they go to bed. Depending on who it is, he’ll ride for an hour or two, though a couple we’ve had in the past have gone a little longer than that.”
“You mean you actually have a headless horseman?” Abby glanced at the banner again.
“Of course. It’s Sleepy Hollow, after all. One of the locals volunteers every year.”
“Where does he ride?” That was something she wanted to see. It would be a great addition to her research. A legend kept alive by a town’s culture.
“All over. Mostly the outskirts, and through the real Sleepy Hollow glen. We’re named for that, which is where all manner of ghostly things are alleged to happen. As I’m sure you know.”
“Has anybody ever seen the real horseman?”
Lu gave her a mischievous smile. “Before or after he died?”
Abby grinned. “After.”
“Yes. People have been seeing him since the Revolutionary War.” Lu adjusted the backpack. “At least, they claim they’ve seen him. Others say they’ve heard his horse, galloping through the Hollow. They all lived to tell about it, clearly.”
“Not all,” Abby said and she looked up at the banner again. “According to legend.” She turned her gaze back to Lu.
“Well, yes. There was one who disappeared, according to legend.” Lu’s expression turned quizzical. “Tabitha Crane,” she said, as if testing the way it sounded. “I wondered when you first called to set up the appointment. What’s your relationship to Ichabod?”
“He was a brother of my father’s direct ancestor. A great-great-great-great uncle to me or something like that.”
“Doing a bit of family history, then, in addition to your community study?”
“I thought it might be interesting, to see if I could find anything along those lines.” She’d wondered, actually, most of her life what had happened to Ichabod.
“Well, you’re in luck. Eleanor has been through our collection of the Van Tassel papers dozens of times.”
“And the Van Brunt?”
Lu smiled. “We do have quite a bit of their papers, too. Eleanor helped catalogue them, but she’s more familiar with the Van Tassel collection. But even in terms of the Van Brunt papers, she can probably point you in any direction you’d like to go.”
“That would be great.”
“And she loves talking history. You’ll see for yourself. At any rate, I’ll see you at the restaurant. I have to run home and drop a few things off.” Lu lifted the tote bag just as an SUV drove past and its driver honked and waved at Lu, who waved back with her free hand. Abby caught a glimpse of the driver—female—and her dark hair and a flash of a smile.
Small towns, Abby thought. Everybody knew everybody else. “See you in a bit,” she said to Lu as she opened her car and put her bag on the floor behind the driver’s seat. She was looking forward to being able to walk most of the time while she was here, to get a real feel for the place. She slowly backed out of the space and headed down Main Street, toward downtown.
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About the author:
Andi Marquette is a native of New Mexico and Colorado and an award-winning mystery, science fiction, and romance writer. She also has the dubious good fortune to be an editor who spent 15 years working in publishing, a career track that sucked her in while she was completing a doctorate in history. She is co-editor of All You Can Eat: A Buffet of Lesbian Erotica and Romance. Her most recent novels are Day of the Dead, the Goldie-nominated finalist The Edge of Rebellion, and the romance From the Hat Down, a follow-up to the Rainbow Award-winning novella, From the Boots Up.
When she’s not writing novels, novellas, and stories or co-editing anthologies, she serves as both an editor for Luna Station Quarterly, an ezine that features speculative fiction written by women and as co-admin of the popular blogsite Women and Words. When she’s not doing that, well, hopefully she’s managing to get a bit of sleep.
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