"Trick or treat, smell my feet, put some Proofide on my seat!"Correspondence Friends Monthly highlights Urban Cycling Stories
The dominant spirit, however, that haunts this enchanted region, and seems to be commander-in-chief of all the powers of the air, is the apparition of a figure on horseback, without a head. It is said by some to be the ghost of a Hessian trooper, whose head had been carried away by a cannon-ball, in some nameless battle during the Revolutionary War, and who is ever and anon seen by the country folk hurrying along in the gloom of night, as if on the wings of the wind. His haunts are not confined to the valley, but extend at times to the adjacent roads, and especially to the vicinity of a church at no great distance. Indeed, certain of the most authentic historians of those parts, who have been careful in collecting and collating the floating facts concerning this spectre, allege that the body of the trooper having been buried in the churchyard, the ghost rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head, and that the rushing speed with which he sometimes passes along the Hollow, like a midnight blast, is owing to his being belated, and in a hurry to get back to the churchyard before daybreak.
Such is the general purport of this legendary superstition, which has furnished materials for many a wild story in that region of shadows; and the spectre is known at all the country firesides, by the name of the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow.
The above is of course an excerpt from "The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow," a short story written by Washington Irving that was published in 1820. It remains a favorite of the Halloween season--not in the sense that people actually read it, but in the sense that the Headless Horseman has become a part of the popular culture despite the fact that nobody's actually read the source material, just like Frankenstein, Dracula, and Jesus.
Also Tim Burton made a movie of it starring Johnny Depp:
(This is from a different Tim Burton movie starring Johnny Depp, but they're all the same anyway so who cares?)
With Halloween imminent I figured I'd take a ride up to the actual real life Sleepy Hollow, which is a pleasant 20 mile jaunt straight up the Hudson River from my home in Jonas Bronck's former homestead:
So I selected a seasonally appropriate bicycle and off I went:
(The Headed Fred sets out in search of the Headless Horseman on his trusty steed, Gunpowder.)
Halloween has its roots in a Gaelic harvest festival or something like that, but like everything else we get our hands on here in America we've gutted it of its true cultural significance and made it even better, and now it's entirely about marching up to people's houses while wearing a disguise and demanding free candy. This is called "trick-or-treating." Therefore, as a father who would soon be supervising this ritual of sugar-addled schnorring, I figured I'd better do some recon on behalf of my progeny along the way.
First I checked out this hulking Tudor:
It was appropriately gloomy and the pumpkins hinted at sweets contained therein. However, the professional trick-or-treater knows to avoid areas with big lawns, because the walking-to-reward ratio is simply too high.
Next I scoped out the actual house from Woody Allen's 1992 film "Husbands and Wives," which served as the residence of Jack and Sally:
Like the Tudor it would involve a lot of walking, but since my son is going as Sydney Pollack this year it seemed like it would be foolish to pass it up:
("Trick or treat, we're getting a divorce.")
So it made the list.
A bit further north the houses are closer together and the decorating is far more ebullient, which makes for prime trick-or-treating country:
Here's a display I saw right nearby last year:
Sadly it won't be back this year as the skeleton tested positive for synthetic testosterone:
Now he's stripped of his skin and his palmarès.
It's only a couple of miles to the city line from where I live, and crossing over into Yonkers I saw the scariest decoration so far:
That's Dr. H. Abrahams, evil foot doctor to you:
(He's taking evil notes about undead bunions.)
I also saw what I can only assume is the World's Largest Cat Tower:
Which clearly attracts tourists from all over the world, hence the brochures:
And here's a haunted pizza place:
It's worth noting that, despite sharing a border with New York City, Yonkers maintains its own identity and even has its very own cuisine--namely the "wedge," which legend has it is an abbreviated malapropism for "sandwich."
So book that exotic Yonkers vacation, buy a wedge, and eat it while basking in the magnificence of the World's Largest Cat Tower:
After the haunted pizza place it's a nice little climb to the top of the ridge where you can see the Palisades in the distance:
And then I came upon this Condominium Complex of Horrors:
It wasn't the row of skulls blending subtly with the fallen leaves that freaked me out:
Nor was it the sunbathing skeleton:
Or the ghoul:
Or even the severed zombie head eating a rat:
No, what really got me was the baby hanging from a noose complete with funeral shroud, black wreath, and bloody high-tops:
That's just messed up.
I suspect something very strange is going on at The Vista, and that the years 1908 and 1738 are somehow the key to it all:
I'm also almost 100% certain that the superintendent is Satan himself:
By this point it was becoming increasingly clear to me I'd be lucky to escape Yonkers alive, and this was confirmed when I saw who was running for city council:
Sure, they can spell it a little differently, but you can't fool me:
My favorite movie in the "Halloween" series is of course "Halloween XXVI: The Return of Night Fred:"
The part where he strangles the charity ride volunteer with his neon green windbreaker is positively chilling.
Nevertheless, I needed a break from the gore, and so I stopped here:
Crunched towards the gate in my gravel-specific shoes:
And laughed heartily at this sign:
There won't be anything even remotely professional about my photography, don't you worry.
With fall in the air the gardens contained within the walls were already wilting, but they were still a balm for my addled spirit:
As were the river views:
And thus replenished I steered onto the trail that would take me to the fabled Hollow of Sleepiness:
It wasn't yet peak foliage time, but the trees were beginning to display flashes of brilliance around the edges:
So by the time I rolled into this open expanse I was in an autumnal reverie:
Only to confront the arresting specter of an army of scarecrows:
They were everywhere:
Some of them even had phones glued to their faces:
This is because crows are clever birds, and they've already learned that any figure not using one at all times is probably not an actual human.
Soon after the scarecrows I arrived in Tarrytown, which is described thusly in the opening paragraph of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow:"
In the bosom of one of those spacious coves which indent the eastern shore of the Hudson, at that broad expansion of the river denominated by the ancient Dutch navigators the Tappan Zee, and where they always prudently shortened sail and implored the protection of St. Nicholas when they crossed, there lies a small market town or rural port, which by some is called Greensburgh, but which is more generally and properly known by the name of Tarry Town.
Though he failed to mention Lefteris Gyro and their fantastic souvlaki:
Unless he reviewed it on "Ye Olde Yelpe" and I'm unaware of it.
Tarrytown was fully 'Weened out, and hey, guess what? More scarecrows!
I'd seen far too many scarecrows by this point to find them even mildly perturbing, but a moment later I saw the most horrifying apparition of my entire journey.
It was worse than the terrifying Death Condo.
It was worse than the Evil Podiatrist.
It was even worse than the emotional rollercoaster of Jack and Sally's relationship:
("I thought that I liked what Michael was doing to me, and that it felt different to Jack- more gentle. And more exciting. And I thought how different Michael was from Jack how much deeper his vision of life was...")
I am speaking of course of this flyer announcing an impending performance by singer-songwriter Don McLean:
I'd rather be pecked to death by crows than listen to "American Pie."
So I plugged my ears and pedaled, and mercifully I soon arrived in Sleepy Hollow:
This is indeed the actual Sleepy Hollow from the story, but they only started officially calling themselves that in like the 1990s, presumably so they could cash in more effectively. They take their identity seriously too, right down to the street names and signs:
Residents were certainly in the Halloween spirit. There were zombie soccer games:
And even an open grave!
I steeled myself for a zombie attack, but fortunately it was just a workman digging a pit...
But of course no visit to Sleepy Hollow would be complete without visiting the spot where Ichabod Crane encountered the Headless Horseman, so I made a right at the haunted gas station:
And there it was:
Well not exactly, but whatever.
But Sleepy Hollow isn't just about old stories. Indeed, new tales of terror are being written by the day. Consider, for example, the mysterious case of Sweetie Bird:
It's tempting to ascribe supernatural significance to his disappearance, but the truth is he probably painted himself black and joined the cast of "Nevermore" in the role of the raven:
Sometimes the simplest explanation is the most terrifying one.