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Ichabod Crane
"What fearful shapes and shadows beset his path amidst the dim and ghastly glare of a snowy night!" by Frederick Simpson Coburn (1899). Ichabod Crane walks home after an evening listening to ghost stories.
First appearance
Created byWashington Irving
Portrayed by
Voiced by
In-universe information
HomeSleepy Hollow, New York

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, and in most adaptations, as a tall, lanky individual. He is the local schoolmaster, and strongly believes in all things supernatural, including the legend of the Headless Horseman. Crane eventually tries unsuccessfully to court the heiress Katrina Van Tassel, a decision that angers Abraham "Brom Bones" Van Brunt, a local man who also wishes to marry Katrina. After supposedly proposing to Katrina, Crane is on his way home alone at night when the Headless Horseman appears and chases the schoolmaster. The Horseman eventually throws his pumpkin head at Crane, causing him to mysteriously disappear without a trace.

Jonathan Arac argues that "Crane immortalized one American type": that of the go-getting Yankee.[1]


Ichabod—meaning 'without glory' in Hebrew—comes from the biblical name of the grandson of Eli, the High Priest, and son of Phinehas. Irving might have borrowed the name from that of Ichabod Crane, a colonel in the US Army during the War of 1812, whom he had met in 1814 in Sackets Harbor, New York.[2]

"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 befriended in Kinderhook, New York, in 1809. The two friends continued a pen-pal correspondence for thirty years.

Kinderhook's original schoolhouse is now owned by the Columbia County Historical Society and called the Ichabod Crane Schoolhouse.[3] The area's modern-day school district, Ichabod Crane Central School District, is also named for the character.

It is claimed by many in Tarrytown that Samuel Youngs is the original from whom Irving drew his character of Ichabod Crane.[4] Author Gary Deniss asserts that while the character of Ichabod Crane is loosely based on Merwin, it may include elements from Youngs' life.[5]


According to Irving, Ichabod's appearance is like that of a goofy, old scarecrow who escaped the cornfield. He is described by Irving in the story as "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 the top, with huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so that it looked like a cock perched upon his spindle neck, to tell which way the wind blew."

Role in story

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

Life and vocation

Ichabod Crane is a schoolteacher with strong beliefs in the supernatural. He is described as "a conscientious man and ever bore in mind the golden maxim, 'Spare the rod and spoil the child.'" However, "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."

He made little money as a schoolmaster; his wages were "scarcely sufficient to furnish him with daily bread." He was able to sustain this work through the help of locals, who "according to country custom in those parts, boarded and lodged at the houses of the farmers whose children he instructed . . . 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."

Ichabod was also known as "the singing-master of the neighborhood" and often on Sundays would "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 person." In addition to his work as a schoolmaster, he "instructed young folks in psalmody."

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."[6]

"Courtship In Sleepy Hollow, or Ichabod Crane and Katrina Van Tassel" (1868)

Supernatural beliefs and local renown

Ichabod was described as being well-read in the literature of the supernatural and superstition. In the story, he was "esteemed by the women as a man of great erudition, for he had read several books quite through, and was regarded a master of Cotton Mather's History of New England Witchcraft, in which, by the way, he most firmly and potently believed." In addition, 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." He would often share his beliefs and readings with others. Indeed, in the story, he "would delight listeners 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 fact that the world did absolutely turn round, and that they were half the time topsy-turvy!"

Irving describes Ichabod as "a man of some importance in the female circle of a rural neighborhood; being 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 parson." Ichabod spent ample time in the company of the locals telling tales of the supernatural and discussing local gossip. He is described as "like a travelling gazette, carrying the whole budget of local gossip from house to house so that his appearance was always greeted with satisfaction." It is also said that "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."

Katrina Van Tassel

Ichabod is said to have a "soft and foolish heart towards the [opposite] sex." In the story, Irving writes regarding Ichabod: "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."

A turning point in the story occurs when Ichabod becomes enamoured 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 her father's wealth (which Ichabod is eager to inherit), he begins to court Katrina, who seems to respond in kind. This attracts the attention of the town's 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 hen-roost, rather than a fair lady's heart."

Encounter with the Headless Horseman

During his journey home, Ichabod encounters another traveller, 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 horse and sending him "tumbling headlong into the dust." The next morning, Ichabod's hat is found abandoned near the church bell bridge, and close beside it is a shattered pumpkin. 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 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.

Adaptations in other media

This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources in this section. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "Ichabod Crane" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (May 2020) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Will Rogers as Ichabod Crane and Lois Meredith as Katrina Van Tassel, in The Headless Horseman (1922)


  1. ^ Arac, Jonathan (2005). The Emergence of American Literary Narrative, 1820-1860. Harvard University Press. p. 32. Retrieved December 5, 2023.
  2. ^ "Teachers Bringing the power of primary sources into the classroom". Retrieved November 28, 2010.
  3. ^ "Ichabod Crane Schoolhouse". Columbia County Historical Society. Retrieved September 27, 2022.
  4. ^ "In Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Monument in Memory of Soldiers of the Revolution". The New York Times. New York. October 14, 1894. p. 17. Retrieved February 20, 2009.
  5. ^ Denis, Gary (2015). Sleepy Hollow: Birth of the Legend. Charleston, SC. ISBN 978-1-5116-4546-1.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  6. ^ Stegall, Caleb (Summer 2008). "Ghostly Echoes: A Eulogy for Covenanter Psalmody". Semper Reformanda. 17 (1). ISSN 1065-3783.
  7. ^ "Headless: A Sleepy Hollow Story (2022)". Retrieved December 20, 2023.