Whether it’s Washington Irving’s 1820 story or the 1999 movie with Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci, the chances are Sleepy Hollow cemetery is ringing a faint bell in the back of your mind.
While on my first trip out of Manhattan and up into New York state, I was so happy that the weather cooperated and I had a clear and sunny day to head over to Sleepy Hollow and get some shots of the cemetery.
Originally called Tarrytown Cemetery when it was incorporated in 1849, after Washington Irving’s death his wishes were respected and its name was changed to Sleepy Hollow. You can also see Washington Irving’s very modest grave there. Covering a whopping 360,000m2 it really is one of the most beautiful cemeteries I have ever seen.
Perched on a hill above the town and coastline below, it has the feel of a place out of time, with memorials to both the revolutionary war and the civil war in the same space. I found the late afternoon sun hitting the ancient gravestones to be both beautiful and calming, as if the decades weighed heavy on the air we were breathing.
Much as the atmosphere was intense, it wasn’t just the plots themselves that created it. We read a lot of the stones as we wandered through the different levels, literally walking backwards through history as the dates got older and older.
By the end of the afternoon, we were reading the names of people who had actually laid the stones that created the US, who had lived through the wilderness and created the buildings, the institutions, the culture of the modern day country. there is such a mythology built around the USA through TV, film and books that it’s often difficult to remember that real people built it. The graves, marking immigrants from all over the world who came to America and made it what it is, contrasts with the America of today.
The Sleep Hollow literary myth tends to take over the real graveyard, and certainly was what led me to check it out. But when you get there, the truth is, it’s a historical time capsule that offers a window into the past- when America was a destination for the world. Highly recommended if you want to take an hour’s trip away from the bustle of Manhattan.
You can find maps, walking tour details and details of famous interments on the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery website