If you haven’t read “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” yet, you can download it for free from Project Gutenburg.
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is narrated by Diedrich Knickerbocker, a character who really loves to describe the details, going so far as to take an entire paragraph to describe something as simple as a tree or the sun.
The tale is set near the Dutch settlement of Tarry Town, based on the real Tarrytown, New York, in a glen called Sleepy Hollow. Ichabod Crane is employed as the school master there. When not teaching, he makes himself useful teaching psalms and helping out on farms. According to our narrator, Ichabod is respected in the community despite his gangly appearance and love for local superstitions and legends.
Ichabod wants to win the hand of eighteen year old Katrina Van Tassel, who shall inherit her parents’ farm. Our narrator wishes us to believe Ichabod is interested in Katrina for the steady supply of food and transportation that shall become his upon marrying Katrina.
But someone else is also interested in marrying Katrina: Abraham Van Brunt, aka Brom Bones. Katrina encourages the interest of both men. Bones, we are to believe, is not so well liked in the community. He runs with a gang, making mischief and given that he is also described as broad-shouldered and arrogant– among other names– we know he is something of a bully.
Their rivalry comes to a head at the Van Tassel’s party when Katrina spends most of the night dancing with Ichabod, setting Bones into a jealous tail spin. However, at the end of the night she rebuffs Ichabod, sending the poor soul home, dejected, to pass through Sleepy Hollow at the witching hour.
With his head full of the ghost stories told at the party, including Bones’s own encounter with the Headless Horseman, Ichabod is surprised by a fellow traveler on the night road. He is further frightened when that traveler does not go around him, but follows and turns out to be the Headless Horseman himself.
Ichabod urges his horse to make a run for it, but the Headless Horseman gives chase through Sleepy Hollow, to a bridge famous for goblin stories, and the whitewash church beyond, where Ichabod believes he will be safe from the ghost rider. But just as Ichabod reaches the bridge, the Headless Horseman hurls his severed head like a missile, striking Ichabod in the head.
The next morning, the horse is found, but Ichabod is not. A search party finds Ichabod’s hat on the bank of the stream near the bridge, and next to the hat, a shattered pumpkin.
We come to the end of the story learning our narrator heard the whole tale at a business meeting.
The devil is in the details. It would be easy enough to believe Bones attacked Ichabod on that bridge or that Ichabod, suffering the shame of Katrina’s rejection, skipped town that night. But there’s no way the narrator or the businessman would have knowledge of all those little details. There’s no way to know what’s true and what’s legend. Unless one of these men was Ichabod himself.
You’ll just have to decide for yourself.