When you hear the words “Sleepy Hollow,” you probably conjure up the image of a headless horseman pursuing a tall, gangly schoolteacher through a dense forest and across a wooden bridge. Or, if you are younger, you might be inclined to see a good-looking, Tom Mison traipsing around modern-day Sleepy Hollow trying to banish the Headless Horseman once again.
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was written by Washington Irving in 1818. It was actually written about the town known as North Tarrytown, not Sleepy Hollow. But the town obligingly changed its name in 1996 to pay homage to Irving’s story and, probably, take advantage of the popularity of America’s first popular ghost story.
And, believe it or not, Sleepy Hollow has its own collection of true ghost stories and haunted places that do not involve seeing-impaired equestrian riders. Okay, seeing, speaking, hearing and smelling impaired equestrian riders. So, let’s visit the Hudson Valley and discover what makes it one of the most haunted places in the country.
Only thirty miles north of Sleepy Hollow is the United States Military Academy, also known as West Point. West Point is the oldest continuously occupied military post in the United States, so, of course, it would have ghosts. This story is from a West Point Magazine article entitled “Ghosts of West Point.”
“In October 1972, then-Cadet Feeley, the assistant brigade adjutant, was asked to spend the night in Room 4714 of the 47th Division because two plebes claimed to have seen a ghost there. Cadet leadership, however, chalked it up to a Halloween joke or a prank related to the upcoming Army-Navy football game.
“I was asked to go over and investigate,” he says. “It turned into going over after Taps to stay in the room—and to not let anyone know it was going to happen—to see if I could catch anybody.”
One of the plebes volunteered his bed to Feeley, and the other, then-Cadet Jim O’Connor ’76, stayed, going to bed early while Feeley stayed up studying for a thermodynamics exam he had the next day. At about 1 a.m., Feeley went to sleep in the bed nearest the hallway, but about an hour and a half later he woke up.
“I could see my breath, and it felt like somebody was pushing down on my chest with their hand. Well, actually, not on my chest. It felt like the hand had gone below, into my chest.”
Eventually, with a strong effort, Feeley was able to turn onto his side, now facing the divider that separated him and the plebe who lived in the room.
“I’m looking at the divider, looking around the room, thinking ‘what the heck was all that about!’ and, ‘I can see my breath still,” he says. “So, I started to roll over on my elbow to look at the wall, and this guy is sticking out of the wall!”
Feeley says he could see the man from about his chest up, and he was leaning through the wall as if leaning out of a window. His uniform looked as though it was from the early 1800s and was buttoned up. He wore a tall hat with a feather and had a mustache.
“But the worst thing for me was that he had no eyes,” says Feeley. “Just bright bulbs where eyes are supposed to be. And we just kind of stared at each other.”
Feeley then waved his hand in front of the ghost’s face to see if there would be any reaction, and there was. He then moved his hand up closer and pushed it through the front of the face but jerked it away immediately.
“It felt like having my hand in a freezer,” he says. It was at this point Feeley felt the need for backup.
“I was keeping half an eye on this guy, and I yelled over to O’Connor and told him to get up. The guy coming out of the wall didn’t do anything, and then O’Connor came around the divider, and I turned to him and looked at him and said, ‘Do you see what I see?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, that’s the guy!’”
Soon after, the stories went viral, and the ghost became widely known as “The Pusher.” Media outlets, including The New York Times and Newsday, covered the story, and about half a dozen theories of who the ghost was and why he was there circulated the campus.”
Ken Kerst, USCC Facilities Planner, says that to the best of his knowledge Room 4714 was converted into a study room after the 1972 incidents, and it still is, despite West Point’s increasing need to house more cadets.
“That’s probably a good idea!” says Feeley, who has been back to the room only once.”
A really, really, really good idea! No one is going to fall asleep in that study hall!
From West Point, we are going to travel south to the village of Nyack, only seven miles west of Sleepy Hollow. Here we are going to visit the only house that has been ruled a haunted house by the New York Supreme Court. This story is from Patch. Com “The Nyack Haunted House: Most stories of hauntings are just stories, but a house on the waterfront in Nyack was legally ruled as being haunted. The large Victorian house was known for being inhabited by poltergeists and was even featured in an article in Reader’s Digest. But when it went on sale in 1990, a man made a down payment without being told the home’s history. When he learned of the possibility of other-worldly inhabitants, he wanted out of the deal and asked for his money back. The New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division ruled in Stambovsky v. Ackley that the house was legally haunted and that homeowners and real estate agents must disclose such a history to prospective buyers. More recent owners have not reported any paranormal activity.”
I thought I’d do a little more digging and this is what I found from the Nyack News and Views “Helen Ackley moved into the house at the end of La Veta Place in the early 1960s. The imposing Victorian was built around 1900 and had been used as both a single-family residence and a boarding house. Ackley, who shared the house with her children and grandchildren, reported to neighbors that her home was haunted. She described phantom footsteps, slamming doors and beds being violently shaken. Even though the stories that she told were unnerving, the Ackleys described a peaceful co-existence with the spirits, who reportedly left gifts. According to Ackley, the disembodied visitors were a Revolutionary War era couple, Sir George and Lady Margaret.
A neighbor who moved in a few doors down from 1 La Veta in the mid-eighties was aware of the stories but was always unconvinced. Any hint of skepticism did not stop Ackley from pitching her story to the media. Like any urban legend, the story grew with the oxygen of repetition and random events that seemed to buttress the original occult claim. When a relatively young and healthy guest at a dinner party at the Ackley home collapsed and died of a brain aneurysm, the story gained some creepy credence.
When Ackley decided to sell her home to Jeffrey Stambovsky in 1989, her ghost stories sank the sale. After making a deposit, Stambovsky learned 1 La Veta Place was on a tour of haunted properties. It was a fact that Ackley failed to mention to the prospective buyer. In Stambovsky v. Ackley, New York’s Supreme Court agreed with the buyer that he had the right to back out of the deal because Ackley didn’t disclose any of the ghostly details.
The first person I approached to determine if the alleged apparitions existed was a former research chemist who has spent the last 15 years pursuing poltergeists as the Ghost Investigator. Linda Zimmermann came to ghost hunting by accident. “Local history was a hobby. But at the end of my lectures, people started asking about ghosts and inviting me to visit their homes.”
I asked Zimmermann why La Veta Place had not made it on to her recently published list of the top 13 haunted sites in Hudson Valley. You might think it would be in her interest as a ghost hunter to keep the legend of La Veta place alive, but she was unimpressed. She told me that subsequent owners have reported no spectral sightings, something that current residents affirm.
She does, however, assert that Nyack is the most haunted village in the most haunted county in New York State. She attributes the ghoulish gridlock to the upheaval that has beset a region where an indigenous population with thousands of years of habitation was displaced by waves of Dutch and British settlers, and the military campaigns and practice of African slavery that they conducted. To Zimmerman, a haunting occurs when “a spirit is trapped due to some tragedy or an unresolved issue that is preventing them from letting go and moving on.” Our rich history of conflict makes Rockland ripe for incorporeal infestation. Among those places that make her list of local haunts are: Oak Hill Cemetery, Hook Mountain, Nyack Library, and nearby Mount Moor Cemetery, a final resting place for African Americans that was threatened with disinterment to make way for the Palisades Mall.”
But this blog wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. This story is from an NY Times article in October 2000 “The year is 1916. A little girl, 6 or 7, wanders into Sleepy Hollow Cemetery at night on a Halloween dare. She creeps among tombstones and mausoleums until she is stopped by an unsettling sound. It is a woman crying, softly, bitterly.
Frightened yet determined, the girl makes her way toward the sound and arrives at the statue of a seated woman, twice-life-size. The weeping has stopped but when the girl climbs into the statue’s lap and reaches up to touch the face, there are tears under the eyes.
The little girl was the grandmother of Emily Storms Arminio, a 10th-generation native of Sleepy Hollow, who recalls hearing the tale often.
Over the years, succeeding generations of Sleepy Hollow residents, the people who Washington Irving described as subject to ”trances and visions,” have created a ghostly mythology about the statue.
Some claim to have heard the weeping, others to have felt the tears of this sculpture, which gazes sadly at the tomb of the Civil War general Samuel M. Thomas.
They call her the Bronze Lady. She might also be called the Other Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Sara Mascia, curator of the Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow Historical Society, said: ”I’ve heard about her crying.
”People have told me that she weeps because of some tragedy in her life. Of course, you can find scientific explanations for the tears — the sculpture interacting with the environment and all that. What I used to hear when I was a kid was that if you’re nice to the statue, she’ll take care of you.”
Ms. Mascia’s memories include trips to the site at night with her friend who lived across the road from the cemetery, armed with flashlights or candles. ”We never really stayed too long on Halloween,” she said.
”If you were really brave you would sit on her lap and be taken care of for life,” she said. She and her friend never got up the nerve to do that, she added, but they did touch the Lady on a few occasions.
The sculpture sits between two stately pines in the north central section of the fabled graveyard, the burial place of Washington Irving, Andrew Carnegie, Elizabeth Arden, Thomas J. Watson and many members of the Rockefeller family.
A shroud covers her wavy bronze locks and a Greco-Roman tunic the rest of her Amazon form. Her forearms are muscled and her hands large and sinewy. There is a forlorn sadness in the slumped shoulders and in the mouth and eyes. Her face is streaked.
Jeannie Galgano, a daughter of a former Sleepy Hollow mayor, remembers her encounters with the legend in the early 1960’s.
”When we were kids, the deal was that you were brave if you went up to the Bronze Lady and you sat in her lap and slapped her across the face and kicked her in the shins. Then you had to go across to the door of the mausoleum and knock on it three times — and if you did all that, she would come and haunt you. We did it a couple of times, but she never came to haunt us.”
Ms. Arminio, the granddaughter of the little girl of the 1916 ghost story, said her grandmother warned her to be careful when approaching the statue.
”She said if you went up to the Bronze Lady and touched her face and said a prayer, within 48 hours something would happen,” she said. ”It would either be very good or very bad. I scoffed at the tale. But two days after I touched the Bronze Lady’s face, a storm brought down a tree limb that crushed my Camaro.”
And then, this final quote from Washington Irving’s wonderful story, “On mounting a rising ground, which brought the figure of his fellow-traveler in relief against the sky, gigantic in height, and muffled in a cloak, Ichabod was horror-struck on perceiving that he was headless! But his horror was still more increased on observing that the head, which should have rested on his shoulders, was carried before him on the pommel of his saddle.”
Like what you read? Find more stories by Terri Reid here.