drawing of the headless horseman holding a pumpkin and riding a horse through the woods

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

by Washington Irving

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Was Katrina Van Tassel from "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" a real person?

Quick answer:

Katrina Van Tassel was probably based on Washington Irving's neighbor Eleanor Van Tassel Brush, although the name Katrina was likely borrowed from Eleanor's aunt Catrina.

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In Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Katrina Van Tassel is the coquettish love interest of the schoolmaster Ichabod Crane and his arch-nemesis, Brom Bones. Katrina is both beautiful and wealthy, and Ichabod is sure that he can win her heart. Brom Bones, however, has other ideas. When Ichabod leaves Katrina's house one evening (looking quite downtrodden), he runs into the famous Headless Horseman. Ichabod flees in terror, and no one in the village ever sees him again (although it is rumored that he actually goes away and becomes a lawyer and judge). Brom Bones marries Katrina.

There really was a Van Tassel family in Washington Irving's New York, and many people think that he modeled Katrina on a woman named Eleanor Van Tassel Brush who was born in Tarrytown in 1764 and was said to be beautiful, flirtatious, and spirited. Irving knew his neighbor Eleanor personally, although he was quite a bit younger than she was. Irving also modeled Katrina's house off of the real Van Tassel home, Wolfert's Roost. Most likely, Irving borrowed the name Katrina from Eleanor's aunt Catrina, perhaps because he liked the sound of it.

Irving was never an author to willingly reveal the inspirations behind his characters and plots, but he was also very much influenced by his childhood home and the people and stories he knew while he growing up, and Katrina Van Tassel and her inspiration, Eleanor, are no exception.

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