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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Why are there more ghost stories in a long-settled village in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"?

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During Irving's time, the United States were young compared with those in Europe, but there was a great movement of pioneers heading for the ever-expanding frontier. As the country grew, more and more people moved in a westerly direction, giving no time for anyone to really settle for as long of a time as the earlier settlements from the pre-revolutionary period. Irving says that,

"local tales and superstitions thrive best in these sheltered, long-settled retreats," because "there is no encouragement for ghosts in most of our villages for they have scarcely had time to finish their first nap and turn themselves in their graves, before their surviving friends have travelled away from the neighborhood; so that when they turn out at night to walk their rounds, they have no acquaintance left to call upon"(11).

In the "long-established Dutch communities," however, the people there had roots that went far back into the late 1600s, so there was a longer period of time to accumulate the ghost stories, to retell them, and to pass them on from one generation to the next. Anyone living in the 1800s who wasn't attached to those communities sought out life and fortune in the west, like that of the 1849 Gold Rush. To that end, long-established communities who have families that date back for more that just a few generations probably twisted and added to the tales as they were passed along and that is what made their history, and the stories, so great.

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What explanation is given for why there are more ghost stories in a long-settled village in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"?

The narrator says that the current residents of Sleepy Hollow have a "peculiar character" and are descendants of the original settlers from Holland. The area has remained somewhat "sequestered" from other settlements, and a "drowsy, dreamy influence" feels as though it pervades the place.

There are legends about it being "bewitched" by a German doctor long ago as well as the land being used by an "old Indian chief," who was like a "prophet or wizard" for powwows back before Hudson found the spot.

The narrator says that there can be no doubt that "some witching power" still affects the minds of the inhabitants of Sleepy Hollow, causing them to possess all manner of remarkable beliefs, to sometimes fall into "trances and visions," and to even see or hear things that are not really there.

This particular and unique history and layering of events and predilections seems to cause there to be more ghostly stories in this village than most others.

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