Post by Josh Zinn.
The street signs of Sleepy Hollow have headless horsemen on them. So do the police cars, garbage trucks, and natural gas meters. In fact, I’m sure a myriad of public utilities take part in celebrating and cashing in on the famed decapitated equestrian whose midnight rides of terror helped transform their humble hamlet into the Halloween haunt of the Hudson hinterlands. Perhaps Washington Irving hadn’t imagined his creepy creation would one day come to signify the call to arms for the men and women working for Sleepy Hollow’s sewage system, but crappier things have happened in the name of public works—just ask the folks who named Flushings.
If one were to ask the Headless Horseman himself—hey, he might know sign language…even though he doesn’t have eyes—what moments in his fictional life truly felt like a misappropriation, however, he’d probably tell you about the time I purchased a key-lime flavored latte (complete with crunchy graham topping!) from a Sleepy Hollow coffee shop. Or the Mexican restaurant named after him that served my friend and I a salad consisting of a HEAD of lettuce alongside a terrine of “bloodied” French dressing. Oh yes, and then there was the time Bing Crosby came to town…
Disney’s animated version of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” starring Crosby as beleaguered schoolteacher Ichabod Crane, is a milder take on Irving’s allegory of foreign-bred superstition and tradition mingling with the bravado, boldness, and greed of the then-new America. By milder, I mean that Ichabod spends much of the cartoon either singing sweet dulcimer notes to the local housewives in an attempt to lure them of their chicken dinners or by balladeering Katrina, the beautiful daughter of the wealthiest man in town, in order to fill his pocketbook. Horror only exists on the outskirts of this Sleepy Hollow, with creepiness taking a backseat to Crosby’s crooning.
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” isn’t a bad film by any means, but in shifting its focus away from the terror of Tarrytown and onto the soothing vocal abilities present in Crosby’s portrayal of Crane, Irving’s supernatural story mutates into a pageantry of phthongal pedagoguery better fit for a USO function. Truth be told, there’s little fright to be found in a film where, for the majority of its length, fanatical females fight for the chance to feed a fair-weather philanderer with the voice of a lounge singer. Sure, the Horseman finally rears his hea… neck near the cartoon’s finale, but until then any pervasive sense of dread has been replaced by questions of whether white Christmases happen even for the headless.
Perhaps, then, the Horseman-emblazoned signs, logos, and salads of today’s Sleepy Hollow are a reclamation of the sinister story that put their town on the map. While there’s nothing wrong with a little Bing to lift one’s spirits, it’s best to remember the spirit at the heart of Irving’s story struck a far more horrific note.