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A Legendary Day in Sleepy Hollow

Created by Giulia Grazzini

You probably wouldn’t recognize it by watching Julia Roberts in Mona Lisa Smile or Catherine Zeta-Jones in The Rebound, but you would immediately associate the cast of Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson with it. Yes, I am talking about the town of Sleepy Hollow.

Halloween season is the busiest time of year for Sleepy Hollow, but no matter when you visit the town, there will be something interesting to see and do. This was abundantly clear when I escaped to Sleepy Hollow from Manhattan in early September.

Dutch settlers first called Sleepy Hollow home around 1643. Reminiscent of the passage of time, this magical place has managed to preserve much of the history and natural beauty that first drew people to it. Historic and legendary names have left their mark on this quiet Hudson River village. In addition to its chilling history, the village offers a wide variety of outdoor adventures such as hiking woodland trails along the most scenic stretches of the Hudson River, trout fishing, horseback riding, and of course cemetery tours that shed light on Washington Irving and other historical characters.

Although I was not in Sleepy Hollow during the peak of its tourist season, Halloween, I decided to go on the Daily Cemetery Tour to learn about the souls buried beneath its granite, bronze and marble graves.  With the cemeteries of nearby Tarrytown filling quickly, Washington Irving and Captain Jacob Storm decided to open a new cemetary in 1849 to accommodate the residents from both towns. Eighty-five acres in size, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery now has over 40,000 in-ground interments.

The guided tour started with a stop at Washington Irving`s grave, upon which a flag had been placed. (Flags identified who served in the US military.) Well-known American architects and sculptors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries could be seen peering from headstones and mausoleums throughout Sleepy Hollow’s cemetery. Major structures such as the Washington Irving Memorial Chapel and the mausoleum of William Rockefeller (the family’s wealthiest member) were impressive. Andrew Carnegie, Scottish-American industrialist, steel magnate, philanthropist, and third wealthiest person in American history, is also resting there. I also came across the grave of Elizabeth Arden, the famous Canadian-American businesswoman who created the cosmetic empire. Other nationally-known individuals remembered in Sleepy Hollow include Brooke and Vincent Astor, Major Edward Bowes, Walter Chrysler, Samuel Gompers, Oswald Villard, and Thomas Watson.

It was also interesting to discover that a new community mausoleum had been built within the cemetery in order to adopt eco-friendly burial methods. In fact, since the opening of the “Riverview Natural Burial Grounds” in 2009, Sleepy Hollow has become one of the only 12 burial places in all NY State that provides a “green” burial option. I had never heard about “sustainability in internment.” My resourceful guide explained that green burials ensure that the burial site remains as natural as possible. This is done by using bio-degradable caskets or shrouds, avoiding embalming fluid and concrete vaults, and planting native trees and flowers. The intent is to have bodies reunited with the earth. The natural burial ground at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is located on a hillside in an older, historic section of the cemetery that overlooks the Pocantico River. The Hudson River is only a few blocks to the west. The area is surrounded by mature trees and is home to wildlife and many species of birds. A stone marker may be placed on the grave, but it is placed flush with the ground, as opposed to the traditional upright headstone. The stone itself must be a natural stone, meaning that it is not cut by a machine or polished like a traditional headstone.

To get the full magical experience of Sleepy Hollow, take a Lantern Tour of the cemetery. The mystical setting is amplified by the twisting roads, looming monuments, dark shadows and thin reaching branches. For those of you who remember the Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows, this is your chance to enter the crypt of vampire Barnabas Collins. You may also visit a Revolutionary War captain, a notorious counterfeiter, and a noted spiritualist.

Money raised from Classic Cemetery tours go toward supporting the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, a nonprofit organization that is devoted to preserving historic landscapes and monuments. As the cemetery is 166-years-old, there is always something that needs attention. 

I found Sleepy Hollow to be a quaint village, especially with its natural landscapes, its rolling hills, its views of the Hudson River and its well-preserved 17th century architecture. Sure, Irving’s legend has earned Sleepy Hollow the majority of its tourists, but there is much more to see than the cemetery. When you are venturing through Sleepy Hollow, continue walking on Broadway for 15 minutes toward Manhattan until you reach Tarrytown. Home to historic sites, such as Lyndhurst and Washington Irving’s home and the Warner Library, Tarrytown also offers a scenic .6 mile esplanade along the Hudson River, where a longtime industrial site was turned into a residential neighborhood with magnificent views stretching from the Manhattan skyline to the Tappan Zee Bridge. The walk offers a series of grass terraces and lawns and an eco-corridor filled with beautiful indigenous plants.

Close to the riverfront, you cannot miss a meal at the farm-to-table restaurant Rivermarket Bar and Kitchen. Supporting Hudson Valley farmers, the restaurant includes a fresh market with local farm fare and a 100-seat patio overlooking the Tappan Zee Bridge. The interior design itself reflects the restaurant’s sustainable approach and features many beautiful Hudson Valley reclaimed wood touches, including a 200-year-old maple Chevron patterned floor, a cypress and hemlock mushroom wood ceiling, and a rustic 150-year-old cedar barn. It was tough to choose among the menu options featuring seasonal ingredients sourced form local purveyors. I opted for a Nicoise Salad – rare tartare tuna, native shell beans, fresh fava beans, crispy capers, local lettuce and Feather Ridge Farm eggs – along with a piece of Trufflebert cheese – soft goat cheese ripened with black truffle from R&G Cheese Makers

I could not have asked for more from such a sunny Sunday!

Tarrytown hosts another must-try spot: the small, independent coffee roaster and coffee house Coffee Labs. With an eye for sustainability, the shop uses 100 percent renewable energy and roasts coffee beans without automation. You can expect traditional and surprising flavor creations like almond joy in a cozy atmosphere filled with live music from local artists. My 100% Italian mouth isn’t easily satisfied with espresso unless it is short and rich. To say I would recommend trying Coffee Labs should speak by itself!

Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown are liberating places, suitable for a getaway not only during the busy Halloween season, but throughout the year. Here children can run untethered through open spaces, free of the confinement of apartment walls and congested sidewalks. The area is a perfect escape for families and individuals like me.


Look for these memorable sites during your visit to Sleepy Hollow.

October 8, 2016
A traditional lantern for the Lantern Tour of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

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