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Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hallow” is one of my all-time favorite stories. If you’re not familiar, it’s the tale of Ichabod Crane, a cranky school teacher unlucky in love and haunted by the spectres inhabiting the woodsy glen just outside of Tarrytown, New York as well as our protagonist’s imagination. Crane’s main figment that keeps him up at night is The Headless Horseman, a soldier whose head was shot off in the revolutionary war and now spends his evenings searching Sleepy Hallow for his noggin — or so the story goes.
As a kid growing up not too far from the real Sleepy Hallow, I was obsessed with this spooky story. I had the book which I’d beg my mom to read to me every night for the entire month of October. When she wouldn’t entertain my requests I had the record which I’d throw on my Fisher Price player and crawl under the sheets, scared out of my wits and loving every minute of it — till it ended that is. Then I’d find myself alone in my dark room with just my overactive imagination and images of the Horseman with his pumpkin that served as a stand-in for his head tucked tightly under his arm.
Despite my general bedtime angst I’d wake up each morning invigorated and excited to hear the story again. It had worked its way deep into my imagination and found a home nestled in my hippocampus. It prompted my best Halloween costume to date — an amazing facsimile of the Headless Horseman constructed with loving care by mother out of a dramatic black cape with red lining and a card-board reinforced three-inch tall collar that allowed the cape to sit on top of my head, creating the illusion of being headless. I’d put on a white dress shirt, cut slits in the cape so I could see and put a pumpkin in my hand. Simple but effective.
And this is the power of a great story told with passion and zeal — they have the ability to not only entertain but to guide our lives in unexpected ways. And while Halloween presents a great opportunity to demonstrate your scary story telling prowess and get creative in a myriad of ways, it also reminds us that painting pictures with words remains one of the best means of conveying messages. An art that we should all be well versed in.