Headless in the Hudson Valley: The Sleepy Hollow Experience in Sleepy Hollow, New York

October 11, 2019 — Three years ago, I told you about The Sleepy Hollow Experience I attended at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. It’s a live performance of Washington Irving’s tale, broken up across a landscape. As each scene ends, you move across the ground en masse to the next stage or building or spot to watch the performers continue the story. It culminates with the Headless Horseman himself galloping on a real horse past the crowd under dramatic lighting. I loved it, and when I found out that they were going to put on a show this year at Sunnyside —the home of Washington Irving himself, just outside of Sleepy Hollow, New YorkI had to go.

It was a little different than the Sturbridge version, because they were adapting to a different landscape. For instance, they forewent the eating hall where you could order chowder and stew and seasonal drinks. Instead, it was more of a courtyard with a snack table. But both had the black-masked and berobed characters silently and eerily wandering around.

So a little less ambiance for this part than Sturbridge had, but Sunnyside made up for it with Washington Irving himself. An actor performing as the author sat in the middle of the courtyard at a candle-covered desk and pretended to write and make tea and be a photo op. When it was time for the show to start, he hopped up on his chair and made a quick speech, and we all followed him down to Sunnyside, where he transitioned to the rest of the actors by acting as if he were being haunted by them. A really nice touch.

From there it was basically the same show, with the biggest differences being the harvest party scene and the climax. At Sturbridge, there was an intermission in the middle of the harvest party scene, where we were all suddenly attendees at the party. We could play games and buy food and drinks and interact with the actors, who all remained in character. It’s a brilliant idea, but they skipped it at Sunnyside, which, admittedly, made the show more direct and leaner.

For the finale, the Headless Horseman thundered across a path instead of the covered bridge that Sturbridge had on its property, which is possibly less dramatic, but more accurate to the story and gave us a better view of the Horseman in the distance. At Sturbridge, it ended abruptly after that, while at Sunnyside, the characters returned for a brief coda.

So overall, I think Old Sturbridge Village was a more ideal venue in the practical sense, but Sunnyside more ideal in that we were watching the performance on the grounds of the man who wrote the story. But both performances were rad and, honestly, I would probably catch it a third time, even at a third venue.