Skip to main content

Noted author Washington Irving is said to have based his Ichabod Crane character on a schoolteacher named Jesse Merwin.

Categories: History, Legend, WCNY Vignette

The Washington Irving story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is probably best known for its villain, The Headless Horseman, and the countless paintings, cartoons, movie, stage and other adaptations, as well as the Halloween decorations it has inspired. Less famous, but still well remembered is the name of the cowardly central figure in the tale, Ichabod Crane. The character of local schoolmaster Crane, who fails to acquire the hand of the rich and winsome Katrina Van Tassel, is variously described as “lean and lanky” and is portrayed as extremely superstitious. The name of the character comes from a US Army Captain that Irving met in the War of 1812, but the personage seems to resemble the schoolmaster of Kinderhook School in Kinderhook, NY, Jesse Merwin. Merwin and Irving reportedly became friends around 1809 when Irving was staying in Kinderhook, and the two continued to correspond for decades afterwards. The school which sits on the site where Merwin’s school originally sat, is known as the Ichabod Crane School.

Video produced by WCNY.