Grave of Ichabod Crane

October 9, 2011— If you’re into Autumn, Halloween, or early American Literature then you have to make your way to the town of Sleepy Hollow, NY, at some point in your life. If you’re into all three, you should pretty much move and buy a burial plot there. You see, in that five-square-mile town right in the middle of the picturesque Hudson Valley, they celebrate Washington Irving and his short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow like it’s a religious text or a founding document of the country.

There, as well as in its close-by neighbor Tarrytown, you’ll find Washington Irving’s house and grave; the bridge, church, and cemetery featured in the story; statues dedicated to it and him; businesses and school mascots that make use of the Headless Horseman character; an annual Fall celebration dedicated to the tale, and the epitaph inspirations of many of the characters from the story. So much, in fact, that you have to use semi-colons to list it all.

That’s right. Irving based his immortal story of a headless ghost on a real place, using real names and sites, and then moved, died, and was buried in that area himself. You can read all about one of my visits to the town here.

Yup, Sleepy Hollow has it all when it comes to its Legend. Almost. The one thing you won’t find there, though, is the grave of the namesake of the story’s schoolmaster protagonist…Ichabod, Ichabod Crane.

To see that, you have to travel about fifty miles down the Hudson River to the town of New Springville on Staten Island, where Ichabod apparently ran in terror after his ghostly encounter.

Ichabod Crane’s namesake was nothing like the lanky, excitable, proto-Shaggy that was the main character of the story. Instead, the real Ichabod Crane was a military man who could’ve given Brom Bones what-fer (I assume, having only a layman’s knowledge of what-fer), serving in both the Marines and then the Army in a career that spanned half a century. In the latter of the two branches, he achieved the rank of Colonel, the rank currently engraven on his death monument.

Actually, I should be saying alleged namesake, since Irving never revealed to posterity where exactly he got such a memorable name from. Fortunately, the scholars and historians that be pretty much figured it out for the rest of us. Apparently, it’s been established that Irving met Crane in the early 1800s at Fork Pike in Sackets Harbor, NY, right on Lake Ontario. Crane was stationed there, and during his tour, Irving visited as an aide-de-camp to Daniel Tompkins, governor of New York.

And that’s plenty good enough. A name like Ichabod Crane sticks with you. The surname, of course, works as a sidekick to emphasize the rather strange first name, which is Biblical. Of course, it’s Biblical like Beelzebub is Biblical, since it means “the glory is departed from Israel.” In modern parlance, it’d be like naming your child X-Files Season 5 or The Spaghetti Incident?

Still, Crane’s parents must have taken a liking to the meter of it, much the same as Irving himself did, and much the same as anybody who has ever read the story or watched a film adaptation has in the past 200 years.

As to the real Ichabod Crane, he was born in New Jersey, was stationed along the East Coast in various locations, and ended his days and started his eternity in Staten Island. He’s buried in Asbury Methodist Cemetery at 2000 Richmond Ave.

Despite the evidence that links the Colonel to one of American literature’s most enduring stories, the community of Springville must feel it’s still just too tenuous a connection for them to care too much about. For years, Crane’s grave was a broken pedestal, beheaded, graffiti-marred, and overgrown. In the past decade, they finally replaced it with a sparkling white monument, but there are still signs that they don’t exactly know what they’ve got in their midst.

When I visited it recently, the area around the obelisk was still extremely overgrown, obviously uncared for, and almost hidden in tall weeds in a back part of what is actually a tiny cemetery.

The old Asbury Methodist Cemetery is located on the grounds of the Son-Rise Faith Church. The graveyard envelops the church on both sides, and Crane’s grave is located on the left side, if you’re facing the front of the church.

From there, head toward the very back, left corner of the small cemetery. If the conditions are the same as when I visited, you’ll pass through a few rows of relatively well-cared-for headstones until you hit a patch of scrubland that looks completely not worth venturing into. However, you’ll just be able to make out the pointed tip of Crane’s monument, which if I’m at all representative of my readership, will fortify you enough to vault the dead tree blocking the way and then fight off all the burrs, thorns, ticks, snakes, and other less-known minions of death and pain that have their own plans for you.

I want to say that it’s worth it, but suddenly don’t feel comfortable presuming so much about you.

The obelisk isn’t too tall as far as these thing go and is adorned close to the base with a pair of crossed cannons. The base itself is a four-sided block of white stone, with each side denoting somebody different who is buried in the Crane family plot, which, besides Ichabod himself, include his wife Charlotte, his son William, and his valet, a Native American named Juan of the Umpqua tribe whom Crane met while visiting a fort in Oregon.

So to recap, if you’re way into Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, go forthwith to the town of Sleepy Hollow, NY. If you’re obsessed to the point of ruining your life about the story, also visit the grave of Ichabod, Ichabod Crane.

And if you do find yourself in that wild patch of graveyard, do me a favor and smash a pumpkin on the headstone for old time’s sake.