So there's this village in Westchester called Sleepy Hollow, maybe you've heard of it? It's a Fox show now, but chances are you knew about it from a while ago - say, a story you had to read in fourth grade. Here's a quick description by Washington Irving to refresh your memory: "the whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions," including that one about the guy on horseback—you know, the one without a head.
As you might imagine, Sleepy Hollow (which used to be called North Tarrytown) is Halloween headquarters, and it can be hard to know where to begin to scare yourself silly. The village hosts its own Haunted Hay Ride on October 28 and 29, but most out-of-towners start their fright quest at any of the numerous historic houses or local landmarks that dot the landscape: each one offering its own take on the "local tales and haunted spots" of the Headless Horseman's home turf.
Lyndhurst Mansion (Facebook)
The eerie, Gothic Revival castle of Lyndhurst was once home to robber baron Jay Gould, and more recently it served as the setting for the cult 1970-71 series Dark Shadows. This October, it transforms by night into "Jay Ghoul's House of Curiosities" a "haunted" tour of the house (and a rare chance to be inside the lavishly-appointed house after dark).
Looking for a spooky seasonal themed event without a "creature feature?" Head to nearby Croton, where "The Great Jack O' Lantern Blaze" lights up the 18th century house and gardens of Van Cortlandt Manor with five thousand hand-carved and illuminated pumpkins, including, naturally, Mr Headless himself.
Nightmare on Irving Street:
For visitors who insist on a little more gore with their gloom, Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow offers "The Horseman's Hollow," a haunted walk and maze that promises more face time with live zombies, fiends, and the criminally insane in period costume than you might find on your average L train ride.
It also offers more fresh air than the L train: corn maze, anyone? Sure, "The Horseman's Hollow" takes liberties with Irving's original story, but once you've been chased by an actual decapitate on horseback you probably won't stick around to quibble over the script. The nearby Horseman Family Restaurant is as good a place as any to assuage your self-inflicted fears with comfort food.
Sleepy Hollow also offers more literary - or possibly more ectoplasmic- ways to be terrified this October. Aficionados of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" can take in a dramatic live reading of the story in the Old Dutch Church (complete with organ music), and tour the Old Dutch Burying Ground (the fictional Horseman's uneasy resting place) and Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, which adjoin it.
Jacob Van Tassel's grave (Joe Schulz/Flickr)
Graveseekers frequently ask Sleepy Hollow Cemetery staff where they can find the headstones of the Headless Horseman, Katrina Van Tassell, and Ichabod Crane. They don't exist, of course, but Washington Irving is buried on the tree-filled and quiet grounds, and the author's simple plot is as good a place as any to commune with the "twilight superstitions" of Sleepy Hollow and marvel at the lasting impression created by this nearly two-hundred-year-old tale.
Betsy Bradley was born in Manhattan and raised in Westchester, to her eternal disappointment. She now lives in Brooklyn and writes about New York, headless horsemen and human zoos. You can follow her on Twitter at @knickerbockerny