When I was a young teenager in love growing up along the Hudson River in New York, my adventurous boyfriend, surprised me one Halloween night with a trip to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. He was more aware than I of the wealth of history around us. My gaze led me away to the Algonquin Round Table, the London of the Beatles, and Sherlock Holmes. This was not the quaint Cemetery in the town of Sleepy Hollow, but the large, craggy, hilly one just a couple of miles north, in Tarrytown. Washington Irving himself had re-named it “Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.”
In this part of the world they take his story very seriously and every Halloween night, the Horseman (or sometimes, Horsewoman) rides again for those few brave enough to witness it.
It was a cold, windy yet dry night, the scattering of brown oak leaves still clinging to their bows rattled like tuneless tambourines above our heads. We wrapped up in blankets keeping each other warm through the lengthy wait. We heard him long before we saw him, screaming, laughing, his horse’s hoofs pounding on the path, echoing through hundreds of burial chambers. We jumped to our feet when we saw what seemed to be a ball of fire held high in the air against a sky of stars.
Quickly we plunged behind a gravestone. All around us were the terrifying echoes of pounding hoofs hollow and loud. I thought the reverberations would wake the dead and at this point, I wondered if this was a mistake. Maybe the earth would open and swallow us. Maybe we’d lose our heads! Then the dark and headless figure of the howling Hessian Ghost was upon us. His horse reared up breathing plumes of condensation eerily lit by the fireball. Time was frozen by our fear. Then his horse touched ground again, pounded past on the path and my screams were added to those all around us.
All we brave ones, screaming out our giddy teenage vibes and the palpable aura of horror, again and again, releasing enough energy to power a small city. My boyfriend and I crept out, careful not to step on the graves, ever vigilant to the dying sound of the Headless Horseman.
Gretchen Altabef is an MX author of Sherlock Holmes novels. Mondadori Publishing has contracted to translate her novels into Italian. Ms. Altabef strives to emulate Dr. John Watson’s and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary style. The first, These Scattered Houses, is in Holmes’ own voice and resourcefully chronicles the last two months of his ‘great hiatus’. The second in the series is, Remarkable Power of Stimulus. After 3 years away, Holmes finds London awash in murders, No. 221B under siege, anarchists threatening Paris, and the return of Irene Adler. Fully aware he is being watched by Moriarty’s men, Holmes steps out of the cab into Baker Street knowing he will find Watson’s friendship and unerring aim are as dependable as the British Rail.