Everyone knows “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, Washington Irving’s famous story of Ichabod Crane’s unfortunate meeting with the Headless Horseman. The actual church and churchyard that helped inspire Irving is known as the Old Church Yard of The Old Dutch Church. Right outside the church runs the Pocantico River, and it is believed that the spot of the original Headless Horseman Bridge was not far from that site. What we know as The Sleepy Hollow Cemetery was added on to the Old Church Yard grounds in 1849. The name was changed from Tarrytown Cemetery to The Sleepy Hollow Cemetery after Irving’s death in response to a prior request. The entire estate lends itself to the imagination and it is easy to see how Irving envisioned this place as the setting of his haunted tale, especially when it was surrounded by woods and farmland at the time.
Back when I was in high school, my mother, Lady Rhea, and her partner, Lady Zoradia, were asked to shoot a segment for Fox Five on Halloween night. They were supposed to conduct a séance in the Old Church Yard to try to help put the restless spirit of Hulda, a legendary witch who acted as the village’s herbalist, to rest. Hulda had been buried in an unmarked grave and she was believed to haunt the place out of the disrespect that was shown to her by the ungrateful townspeople. Of course, they brought me along. Carrie, an older girl who worked for my mother’s shop, and who was also a friend of mine, came with us.
The place was enchanting when we first arrived during the late afternoon. Carrie and I actually spent a lot of time exploring the cemetery grounds. Then night fell and we both realized that we were in Sleepy Hollow on Halloween. Furthermore, we were going to be there at the stroke of midnight when the Headless Horseman was supposed to ride through.
Till this day, I do not know what possessed me, but for some reason, both Carrie and I went away from the film crew and found ourselves wandering along the gravestones in the dark. We did not go too far because we wanted to be able to find our way back again. Standing there with Carrie, I suddenly heard a very low, moaning sound. I told Carrie to stop trying to scare me. She whimpered, “That’s not me. I thought it was you.” The moaning continued above our talking. “What do you think it is?” I asked her. She said that she did not know. Neither of us had ever heard anything like it. Freaked out, I took a few steps away from the grave, only to discover that the unearthly sound vanished. You could only hear it if you stayed close to the tombstone. I tried to get Carrie to come back with me to where my mom was with the film crew, but she was too scared to move. Unsettled by the continuous, low moaning, I finally took off.
I got all the way to the front part of the Old Church Yard to find out that Carrie was not behind me. Feeling guilty, I threaded my way back through the dark pathways until I found her again. The gravestone was still moaning. Grabbing Carrie by the arm, I said, “Whatever it is, obviously doesn’t want us here. Let’s go!”
I recently went back to the Old Church Yard to see if I could find another spirit. Just as before, everything seems nice and quiet during the day. I took some really splendid pictures of the tombstones, but other than the usual change in atmosphere upon entering the gates, I did not see or hear anything that would indicate the presence of spirits. I tried to find the graves that Carrie and I were standing by on that Halloween night, but I could not remember where they were because it had been too dark to read the names. All I know is that we were not far from the shed and the paved road that runs through the cemetery. Perhaps, my mother and Lady Zoradia had invoked the spirit of Hulda after all, but had not been situated in the right place? I went expecting the Headless Horseman, but instead I got “Moaning Myrtle.”
For more information on Sleepy Hollow Cemetery or to take one of their tours after dark, please check out their website at http://sleepyhollowcemetery.org/news-events/