Ichabod Crane

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Ichabod Crane is a fictional character and the protagonist in Washington Irving's short story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow". Crane is portrayed, in the original work, as well as most adaptations as a tall, lanky individual with a scarecrow effect. He is the local schoolmaster, and has a strong belief in all things supernatural, including the legend of the headless horseman. Crane eventually tries unsuccessfully to court the heiress Katrina Van Tassel, a decision which angers Abraham "Brom Bones" Van Brunt, a local man who also wishes to marry Katrina. After supposedly proposing to Katrina, Crane is headed home alone at night when the headless horseman appears and chases the schoolmaster.


"Ichabod Crane, Respectfully Dedicated to Washington Irving" by William J. Wilgus; chromolithograph (c. 1856)

According to a notation by Irving and a certification written in longhand by Martin Van Buren, the 'pattern' (Van Buren's words) for the character of Ichabod Crane was based on the original Kinderhook schoolmaster named Jesse Merwin—born in Connecticut—whom Irving became friends within Kinderhook, New York, in 1809. The two friends continued a pen-pal correspondence for thirty years. The Columbia County Historical Society (New York) owns the original Kinderhook Schoolhouse named after the Irving character based on Jesse Merwin, the town's first schoolteacher. The Kinderhook town school district (Ichabod Crane Central School District) is also named for the Irving character. It is claimed by many in Tarrytown that Samuel Youngs is the original from whom Irving drew his character of Ichabod Crane.[2] Author Gary Denis asserts that while the character of Ichabod Crane is loosely based on Kinderhook Schoolmaster, Jesse Merwin, it may include elements from Samuel Young's life.[3]

Role in story

The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane, by John Quidor
, 1858

Ichabod Crane "was tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together. His head was small, and flat at top, with huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so that it looked like a weather-cock perched upon his spindle neck, to tell which way the wind blew."

According to Irving, Ichabod looks like a goofy, old scarecrow who has escaped the cornfield. Ichabod Crane is a school teacher with very little money, and as a result, the ladies of the town take care to feed him in the evenings, during which he is happy to listen to their tales about supernatural events in the settlement. Ichabod is said to have carried a copy of Cotton Mather's History of New England Witchcraft, which he firmly believes in.

He was a conscientious man and ever bore in mind the golden maxim, "Spare the rod and spoil the child". Ichabod Crane's scholars certainly were not spoiled. He administered justice with discrimination rather than severity; taking the burden off the backs of the weak, and laying it on those of the strong.

The revenue arising from his school was small, and would have been scarcely sufficient to furnish him with daily bread, for he was a huge feeder, and, though lank, had the dilating powers of an anaconda; but to help out his maintenance, he was, according to country custom in those parts, boarded and lodged at the houses of the farmers whose children he instructed. When school hours were over, he was even the companion and playmate of the larger boys; and on holiday afternoons would convoy some of the smaller ones home, who happened to have pretty sisters, or good housewives for mothers, noted for the comforts of the cupboard. With these he lived successively a week at a time, thus going the rounds of the neighborhood, with all his worldly effects tied up in a cotton handkerchief.

In addition to his other vocations, he was the singing-master of the neighborhood and instructed young folks in psalmody. It was a matter of no little vanity to him on Sundays, to take his station in front of the church gallery, with a band of chosen singers; where, in his own, he completely carried away the psalm from the parson. His voice resounded far above all the rest of the Congregation.

The schoolmaster was a man of some importance in the female circle of a rural neighborhood considered a kind of idle, gentleman-like personage, of vastly superior taste and accomplishments to the rough country swains, and, indeed, inferior in learning only to the person. He was peculiarly happy in the smiles of all the country damsels. How he would figure among them in the churchyard, between services on Sundays; gathering grapes for them from the wild vines that overran the surrounding trees; reciting for their amusement all the epitaphs on the tombstones; or sauntering, with a whole bevy of them, along the banks of the adjacent millpond; while the more bashful country bumpkins hung sheepishly back, envying his superior elegance and address.

He was like a travelling gazette, carrying the whole budget of local gossip from house to house so that his appearance was always greeted with satisfaction. He was, moreover, esteemed by the women as a man of great erudition, for he had read several books quite through, and was a perfect master of Cotton Mather's History of New England Witchcraft, in which, by the way, he most firmly and potently believed. He took pleasure in reading old Mather's direful tales till dusk after school. Moreover, no supernatural story or superstition was hard for him to believe. Another of his sources of fearful pleasure was to pass long winter evenings with the old Dutch wives, as they sat spinning by the fire, with a row of apples roasting and spluttering along with the hearth, and listen to their marvelous tales of ghosts and goblins, and haunted fields, and haunted brooks, and haunted bridges, and haunted houses, and particularly of the headless horseman, or Galloping Hessian of the Hollow, as they sometimes called him.

He would delight them equally by his anecdotes of witchcraft, and of the direful omens and portentous sights and sounds in the air, which prevailed in the earlier times of Connecticut; and would frighten them woefully with speculations upon comets and shooting stars, and with the alarming fact that the world did absolutely turn round, and that they were half the time topsy-turvy! He used to think of ghosts and devils while passing through the dim and ghastly glare of a snowy night and used to get scared. He would have passed a pleasant life of it, despite the Devil and all his works, if his path had not been crossed by a being that causes more perplexity to mortal man than ghosts, goblins, and the whole race of witches put together, and that was—a woman. Ichabod had a soft and foolish heart towards the opposite sex.

A turning point in the story occurs when Ichabod becomes enamored of one Katrina Van Tassel, the daughter and only child of a wealthy farmer named Baltus Van Tassel, who pays little attention to his daughter other than to be proud of her merits when they are praised. On account of both of hearty her father's wealth, which he is eager to inherit, Ichabod begins to court Katrina, who seems to respond in kind. This attracts the attention of the town rowdy, Abraham "Brom Bones" Van Brunt, who also wants to marry Katrina and is challenged in this only by Ichabod. Despite Brom's efforts to humiliate or punish the schoolmaster, Ichabod remains steadfast, and neither contestant seems able to gain any advantage throughout this rivalry.

Later, both men are invited to a harvest festival party at Van Tassel's where Ichabod's social skills far outshine Brom's. After the party breaks up, Ichabod remains behind for "a tête-à-tête with the heiress", where it is supposed that he makes a proposal of marriage to Katrina but, according to the narrator, "Something, however ... must have gone wrong, for he certainly sallied forth, after no very great interval, with an air quite desolate and chapfallen", meaning that his proposal is refused, allegedly because her sole purpose in courting him was either to test or to increase Brom's desire for her. Therefore, Ichabod leaves the house "with the air of one who had been sacking a enroots, rather than a fair lady's heart". He finally becomes a victim of his own falsest and belief.

During his journey home, Ichabod encounters another traveler, who is eventually revealed to be the legendary Headless Horseman; the ghost of a Hessian soldier who was decapitated by a cannonball during the American Revolutionary War. Ichabod flees with the Headless Horseman pursuing him, eventually crossing a bridge near the Dutch burial ground. Because the ghost is incapable of crossing this bridge, Ichabod assumes that he is safe. However, before Ichabod can react, the Headless Horseman throws his severed head at him, knocking him from the back of his own e and sending "tumbling headlong into the dust". The next morning, Ichabod's hat is found abandoned near the church bell bridge, and close beside itis a shattered pumit is Ichabod is never seen in Sleepy Hollow again and is therefore presumed to have been spirited away by the Headless Horseman.

Later, "an old farmer, who had been down to New York on a visit several years after, and from whom this account of the ghostly adventure was received" suggests that Ichabod had been frightened by both the Horseman and the anticipated anger of his (Ichabod's) current landlord into leaving the town forever, later to become "a justice of the ten pound court" in "ten-pound part of the country". Katrina marries Brom, who is said: "to look exceedingly knowing whenever the story of Ichabod was related, and always laughed heartily at the mention of the pumpkin". These events, "led some to suspect that he knew more about the matter than he chose to tell". Therefore, it can be assumed that Brom himself was the Horseman, whose legend he took advantage of to rid himself of his rival.

Caleb Stegall suggests that "the most distinctive characteristic Irving gives Ichabod is that of a psalm singer," and that Ichabod Crane is the "most celebrated Covenanter in all of the literature."[4]

Adaptations in other media


  1. ^ "Teachers Bringing the power of primary sources into the classroom". frontiers.loc.gov. Retrieved 28 November 2010.
  2. ^ "In Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Monument in Memory of Soldiers of the Revolution". The New York Times. New York. 1894-10-14. p. 17. Retrieved 2009-02-20.
  3. ^ Denis, Gary (2015). Sleepy Hollow: Birth of the Legend. Charleston, SC. ISBN 978-1-5116-4546-1.
  4. ^ Stegall, Caleb (Summer 2008). "Ghostly Echoes: A Eulogy for Covenanter Psalmody". Semper Reformanda. 17 (1). ISSN 1065-3783.
Privacy Policy