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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Which details from "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" support the idea that the "headless horseman" was a trick to scare Ichabod away?

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The details in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" that suggest the "headless horseman" was a ruse to scare Ichabod Crane away include Crane's known superstitions, the shattered pumpkin found near his hat, and Brom Bones' knowing smiles and laughter when the story is recounted. These elements, combined with the fact that Bones married Katrina Van Tassel following Crane's disappearance, imply that Bones may have orchestrated the scare to eliminate his rival.

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We know from the text that Ichabod Crane was superstitious: not only do ghost stories frighten him, but after his disappearance, the local residents find in his home a "History of Witchcraft,” and a "book of dreams and fortune-telling." Anyone who knew him could easily have played on his fears and superstitions to drive him away. We know too that a "shattered pumpkin" was found near Crane's hat on the road to the church after he vanished.

Crane, a school teacher and outsider in the established community, had entered into a rivalry with Brom Bones to marry the wealthy Katrina Van Tassel. Brom wedded Katrina after Crane left, would smile knowingly when people told Ichabod's story, and would "laugh" at the part about the pumpkin. All of these clues suggests that Brom played the role of trickster, using a ruse to convince the susceptible Crane that he was the headless horseman. Crane would have taken the pumpkin in Brom's lap for his head. Clearly, the ruse worked—unless you believe the folktales that said there was a headless horseman. 

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At the end of Washington Irving's "Legend of Sleepy Hollow," Ichabod Crane disappears after he is frightened by the headless horsemen.  A search turns up the saddle of Ichabod's horse, his hat, and a pumpkin.

One old farmer claims that Crane has moved to a distant part of the country where he has become a lawyer, a politician and a judge. 

The old women of the town believe that Ichabod has been "spirited away by supernatural means."

Brom Bones, who was Ichabod's rival for the hand of the beautiful Katrina, "was observed to look exceedingly knowing whenever the story of Ichabod was related, and always burst into a hearty laugh at the mention of the pumpkin."  This, of course, supports the theory that the Headless Horseman was none other than Brom Bones hiding his head under his coat and displaying a pumpkin in its place. 

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Ichabod Crane was well known in the community to believe in witches and goblins and the story of the Headless Horseman. He had a copy of Cotton Mather's book on witchcraft and:

His appetite for the marvellous, and his powers of digesting it, were equally extraordinary; and both had been increased by his residence in this spellbound region.

No doubt Brom Bones knew about his wild imagination and figured he could pull off a great prank and get rid of his rival for Katrina's hand in marriage.

There is a lot of foreshadowing about Brom Bones and his skill as a horseman, plus Brom told the story of having escaped the Headless Horseman himself, so he was familiar with the particulars of the legend and how to pull off such a prank.

He was famed for great knowledge and skill in horsemanship, being as dexterous on horseback as a Tartar.

Also, Brom was a big jokester, so it makes sense he would pull a prank on Ichabod:

He was always ready for either a fight or a frolic; but had more mischief than ill-will in his composition; and, with all his overbearing roughness, there was a strong dash of waggish good humor at bottom. 

and

He was, in fact, noted for preferring vicious animals, given to all kinds of tricks, which kept the rider in constant risk of his neck, for he held a tractable well-broken horse as unworthy of a lad of spirit

When Ichabod leaves the Van Tassel farm dejected because Katrina has spurned his advances, he sees the Headless Horseman at the very same bridge where Brom told his story of escaping the Horseman:

He affirmed that, on returning one night from the neighboring village of Sing Sing, he had been overtaken by this midnight trooper; that he had offered to race with him for a bowl of punch, and should have won it too, for Dare-devil beat the goblin horse all hollow, but, just as they came to the church bridge, the Hessian bolted, and vanished in a flash of fire.

When Ichabod is chased by the ghost, he says:

He recollected the place where Brom Bones’s ghostly competitor had disappeared. “If I can but reach that bridge,” thought Ichabod, “I am safe.”

Finally, after Ichabod disappears, whenever the story comes up, Brom Bones knows more than he is telling:

Brom Bones too, who shortly after his rival’s disappearance conducted the blooming Katrina in triumph to the altar, was observed to look exceedingly knowing whenever the story of Ichabod was related, and always burst into a hearty laugh at the mention of the pumpkin; which led some to suspect that he knew more about the matter than he chose to tell.

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What evidence is there that the "headless horseman" is a trick played on Ichabod to scare him from "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"? The author gives several possible explanations for what has happened to Ichabod Crane. Use specific details from the text that support the inference that the "headless horseman" was a trick played on Ichabod to scare him away from Sleepy Hollow.

In Washington Irving's short story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," Ichabod Crane, the New England interloper and village schoolmaster, vies with local man, Abraham "Brom Bones" Van Brunt for the affections of the rich farmer's daughter, Katrina Van Tassel.

We are led to believe that the headless horsemen who terrifies Ichabod and leads him to flee from Sleepy Hollow is really Brom Bones in disguise by several details.

  1. Ichabod is highly superstitious and Brom Bones is a notorious practical joker, whose preferred target is Ichabod.
  2. Brom has every reason to wish Ichabod would leave the neighborhood, since he seems, initially, to enjoy some success in his courtship of Katrina.
  3. Brom Bones tells stories in which he makes light of the of the Hessian trooper, while at the same time ensuring that the legend remains in circulation, and in the forefront of Ichabod's mind: "He affirmed that, on returning one night from the neighboring village of Sing Sing, he had been overtaken by this midnight trooper; that he had offered to race with him for a bowl of punch, and should have won it too, for Dare-devil beat the goblin horse all hollow, but, just as they came to the church bridge, the Hessian bolted, and vanished in a flash of fire."
  4. A "shattered pumpkin" is found beside Ichabod's hat. This might well have served Brom for the head of the horseman.
  5. Brom Bones, who married Katrina soon after Ichabod's disappearance, "was observed to look exceedingly knowing whenever the story of Ichabod was related, and always burst into a hearty laugh at the mention of the pumpkin; which led some to suspect that he knew more about the matter than he chose to tell."
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What evidence is there that the "headless horseman" is a trick played on Ichabod to scare him from "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"? The author gives several possible explanations for what has happened to Ichabod Crane. Use specific details from the text that support the inference that the "headless horseman" was a trick played on Ichabod to scare him away from Sleepy Hollow.

In Washington Irving's delightful ghost story, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," Ichabod Crane has designs upon the daughter of very wealthy Old Baltus Van Tassel, Katrina.  When he receives an invitation to partake in the "merrymaking" and "quilting frolic" at the Van Tassel castle, Ichabod is ecstatic.  However, Brom Bones, a suitor of Katrina's also attends. Since he and Ichabod are rivals for Katrina's affections, and he has already played practical jokes upon Crane.  Therefore, he may well have tricked Crane after he left.  Here are points consideration: 

1. When Ichabod departs from the party it is the "witching time of night" in the legendary haunted region of Sleepy Hollow.  As Ichabod rides along,

All the stories of ghosts and goblins that he had heard in the afternoon, now came crowding upon his recollection

and, as he approaches the stream that is believed haunted by the ghost of Major Andre, who had been taken prisoner in this area, Ichabod becomes unnerved.  He kicks his old horse Gunpowder so it will trot quickly across the dreaded bridge, but the horse runs broadside into a fence, instead.  Then, Ichabod urges old Gunpowder forward, but the horse balks.  Crane hears something and beholds a black, towering, misshapen form.   However, whether his perceptions are accurate is not certain because Ichabod has been frightened by all the ghosts stories that the old wives have shared throughout the evening, and he is at what is considered a haunted bridge.

2. After Gunpowder is found, calmly munching grass in the front yard of his owner, van Tipper, there is no trace of Ichabod Crane.  After much searching,

on the bank of a broad part of the brook, where the water ran deep and blck, was found the hat of the unfortunate Ichabod, and close beside it a shattered pumpkin.

This pumpkin could well be what Ichabod has believed to be the head of the headless horseman.

3. After Ichabod Crane disappears from the area, Brom Bones marries Katrina Van Tassel.  And, whenever the story of Ichabod is told, 

he always burst into a hearty laugh at the mention of the pumpkin; which led some to suspect that he knew more about the matter than he chose to tell. 

Of course, Brom Bones is known for his horsemanship and he owns a black, spirited steed in Daredevil.  And, he has already been known for his practical jokes played upon Ichabod Crane.

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The "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," was the "headless horseman" a trick played on Ichabod Crane to scare him from Sleepy Hollow? Although there are several possible explanations for what happened to Ichabod, I need help backing up the inference that the headless horseman was just a trick played on him. I also need specific details from the text to support this idea.

Irving doesn't tell us whether Ichabod Crane was a victim of a real "Galloping Hessian" or whether it was a prank pulled on him. From the comic way Crane and his behavior are described, we can presume that it was a prank by Brom Bones.

At the Van Tassels' party, people were telling ghost stories, especially about the Headless Horseman. Brom has his own story to tell about how he dared the horseman to race and bet a bowl of punch for the winner. Brom says he "should have won it too, for Daredevil beat the goblin horse all hollow, but just as they came to the church bridge, the Hessian bolted, and vanished in a flash of fire." In the next to last paragraph, Irving gives us another hint that Brom Bones was the culprit:

Brom Bones, too, who, shortly after his rival's disappearance conducted the blooming Katrina in triumph to the altar, was observed to look exceedingly knowing whenever the story of Ichabod was related, and always burst into a hearty laugh at the mention of the pumpkin; which led some to suspect that he knew more about the matter than he chose to tell.

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