The chilling tale of headless soldier galloping through the night terrorizing a lanky schoolmaster is a famous work of fiction. However, many of the details in Washington Irving’s classic tale, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, blur the line between truth and fantasy.
Tarrytown is a real village in New York’s Hudson River Valley, and it really was populated by a number of Dutch settlers, including a family known as the Van Tassles. There was even a nameless Hessian Soldier buried in the Old Dutch Burying Ground (now known as the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery).
Today, visitors traveling from Sleepy Hollow to Tarrytown to Irvington will find touchstones like these scattered throughout, but perhaps the greatest connection to Washington Irving is his home, Sunnyside, which sits amidst expansive gardens along the bank of the Hudson River.
In 1835, when the noted American author purchased what would become his estate, it was a simple two-room Dutch farmhouse, but he quickly set out to remodel both the grounds and the house. Irving added details from a number of architectural styles: stepped gable facades in the Dutch Colonial style, Gothic revival windows, Tudor-style chimneys, and even a pagoda tower. The eclectic homestead was often open for visitors to tour, and its renown was such that, according to The New York Times, it was featured on ceramics and cigar boxes.
Following Washington Irving’s passing, Sunnyside stayed in the Irving family. In the late 1800s, his nephew, Alexander Irving, made significant changes to the estate. Then in 1945, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. purchased the property, and it was once again opened to the public. While Sunnyside’s illustrious history is known throughout the Northeast, it is hard to imagine that Washington Irving could have ever conceived that his home would serve as inspiration for a location in America’s most popular theme park.
As guests cross the bridge to Liberty Square from the central hub in Magic Kingdom, a small quick-service dining location can be seen tucked into the right side of the pathway. Sleepy Hollow Refreshments’ name serves as a callback to both Irving’s short story and the Disney animated feature it inspired, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. Passersby could perhaps look right past this structure as it blends right into its colonial surroundings, but it causes one to pause as the scents of fried dough, sweet sugar, and ripe strawberries waft from the open windows.
Fresh-fruit funnel cakes and crisp waffles may be what draw guests into the queue, but for those willing to pay close attention, it is clear that the façade of Sleepy Hollow Refreshments was designed to mimic the brick stepped gables and clay tile roof of Sunnyside. Liberty Square, perhaps more than any other land in Magic Kingdom, is populated by locations which are real, historically inspired, or imagined. As such, it is fitting that it would be home to Sunnyside, a real-life house which sits in the midst of a legend.
Sleepy Hollow Refreshments photos from the personal collection of Melanie Whitfield. Stereoscopic view of Home of Washington Irving. Sunnyside, N.Y. – Publisher, Charles Bierstadt, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, Issued 1870, New York Public Library Digital Collections – Public domain.
Kendall has been a member of the WDW Radio Team since 2013. Today, you can read her work on the WDW Radio Blog or hear her join Lou for a number of WDW Radio podcast episodes. Kendall’s affection for Walt Disney World began with her very first family visit in the 1990s and has continued with each magical vacation since. Follow her on Twitter @kl_foreman.