“Down the post road, on still autumn nights, belated wayfarers sometimes heard the sound of hoofs. A madly galloping horse seemed to approach, but no horse or horseman was visible to the keenest eyes…All agreed that the hoofbeats stopped as though the rider had reined in suddenly, and that they were never heard further south than the immense old tulip tree, known as André’s tree, that spread it’s gaunt ghost-like arms in the moonlight.”–Chronicles of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, by Edgar Mayhew Bacon
Two ghostly horsemen. One gallops headless out of the pages of Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the other rides alongside from the pages of history books. The Van Tassel’s at their harvest feast sit around the crackling fire to regale guests with ghost stories. They speak of the Spook Rock, Raven Rock, and the Headless Horseman. They also speak of none other than the poor and tragic ghost of the British Spy Major John André. Here is where lore and legend blend with history.
On October 2nd, 1780, Major John André was hanged as a spy on the other side of the Hudson River at Tappan. He was only 28 years old and yet, he does not haunt the site of his execution. Instead, on certain crisp evenings towards the end of September, the sound of his horse’s hoof falls echo down the road and come to an abrupt stop at the exact spot where he was apprehended.
Eyewitnesses never report seeing anything here, but the sounds of his ride were reported year after year on the anniversary of the famous capture. Not content to wail and moan near the site of the gallows, it would seem that André’s ghost instead returns to Tarrytown, again and again, to try and succeed in his mission. Each time, he fails and is doomed to repeat it again. The creek still runs at this spot, and where the old tulip tree used to stand is now empty as it was reportedly destroyed by lighting around the same time as the reporting of traitor Benedict Arnold’s death in 1801.
As with many ghosts, as the years go by the recollections fade and the sightings dwindle to nothing. Perhaps it is the busy cars on what was the old road drowning out the sound of hoofbeats, or perhaps the more we forget, the more the spook begins to fade; as if the haunting is only as present as memory is. Or, because this is Sleepy Hollow, there is only room for one phantom horseman galloping the streets searching in vain for something that is lost.