Today was our first Summer Saturday at the Old Dutch Church for 2016. It’s my favourite time of the year when we leave our 1837 church in the heart of Tarrytown and retreat to the church of our origin built 331 years ago by Frederick Philpse, Lord of Philipsburg Manor. My self-appointed task on Summer Saturdays is to open the church for visitors who come from all over, generally lured to this spot by Washington Irving’s “Legend of Sleepy Hollow”.
Two ladies arrived who were in town for the “Dark Shadows” convention at the Hilton Double Tree Inn which is not far from Lyndhurst Manor – the place where the original TV show and earlier movies were shot. It was odd to hear the name Barnabas Collins come up in the Old Dutch. Hardly a cousin of FoxTV’s Ichabod Crane, but they both had their problems with witchy-wives. When I looked out at our historic burial ground I saw lots of people milling about looking for what? Not the headstone of Katrina Van Tassel, no! The tomb of Carolyn. And not Captain Crane’s Miss Caroline. I had to point them in the direction of the new burial ground (1847) – ours doesn’t have mausoleums. It was a confusing day managing two different fandoms.
Three younger self-described fans of “The Legend” as told by Tim Burton came down from Poughkeepsie to visit the Old Dutch. They were a bit on the verge of dehydration and I didn’t have the heart to tell them that I’m not a fan of Johnny Depp’s Ichabod, but we spoke about the literary virtues of the story and I asked them if they ever got a chance to listen to Tom Mison’s narration of said story. I hit a nerve. They loved it, couldn’t say enough about it, and listened to it on the way to Sleepy Hollow. Johnny Depp be damned – the rest of our conversation was about Mison, Beharie, and the fact that there really are no Starbuck’s in Sleepy Hollow, or Tarrytown for that matter. None of them has seen Season 3 so I told them to binge it, take two aspirins and call me in the morning.
Now, I’m not a fan of Tim Burton’s film, but I had another set of visitors from L.A. who have a special relationship with the film. As I was speaking to them about the history of the church I noticed that the young woman in the party had a medic alert necklace that said “Autistic” on it. She was very calm – big smile on her face – listening intently to my words. So I looked right into her eyes and asked her if she was here because of the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and she started gushing and talking to me about Ichabod, Katrina, the Horseman. I found out that the reason they came to the church was because of this young lady’s love of the Burton film. I walked them into the burying ground and showed them the headstone of Katrina Van Tassel. Her happy exclamations made me forgive Burton for his vision. Clearly, his telling of the tale gave this woman a means by which she could communicate to others.
I don’t know what it is about “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” that resonates with so many different types of people from all over the country and world. They find their way to the Old Dutch Church and it’s a real joy to share this sacred space with them. From my perspective, “The Legend” is Irving’s calling card – an invitation to experience a physical place in the enchanted Pocantico River Valley, and get in touch with literature, history and maybe find time for a simple prayer of reflection. Indeed, one of my last visitors walked down the aisle towards the pulpit, genuflected, and made the sign of the cross before leaving. Now, we are a church of the reformation, but this act of love and respect was greatly appreciated. You don’t need to be a member of our congregation to feel that certain presence that reminds you in whose image you are made.