Washington Irving’s 1820 short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” takes place in Tarry Town, New York State, in a an area believed to be haunted, most prominently by a headless horseman said to be the ghost of a Hessian mercenary once employed by the British and who was killed during the American Revolutionary War supposedly when a cannon ball took off his head. The headless horseman is a regular and frightful figure in these parts, and his legend provides the basis for considerable fascination among the womenfolk of Sleepy Hollow. Such is the context in which the local school teacher, Ichabod Crane, delights in impressing the women with his knowledge of sorcery. As described by the story’s narrator, Ichabod’s education and eloquence are a source of great amusement and admiration among the females of the town:
“He [Ichabod Crane] was, moreover, esteemed by the women as a man of great erudition, for he had read several books quite through, and was a perfect master of Cotton Mather’s history of New England Witchcraft, in which, by the way, he most firmly and potently believed.”
The subject about which Ichabod likes to read, therefore, is witchcraft.