Editor’s note. The following text and images are excerpted from an early Sleepy Hollow Cemetery sales brochure. We’ve left the 19th Century prose intact, updating only the number of burials. Of historical interest, the photo of Washington Irving’s grave site shows his stone closely resembles others in the plot. Irving’s present marker is a larger and more rounded stone, obviously a replacement. Also of interest, the brochure glosses over the fact that the cemetery was named “Tarrytown” until a few years after Irving’s death. Irving was not shy about pointing out what he considered a “blunder,” sometimes in very public ways such as this letter to the editor of Knickerbocker Magazine.
An Ideal Resting Place
The Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is situated on the easterly bank of the Hudson River, at Tarrytown, County of Westchester, and is fourteen miles north of the boundary line of the city of New York. It is easily accessible and its surroundings will probably protect it for centuries to come from the inevitable fate which, earlier or later, overtakes all burial places which check the growth of cities.
The cemetery belongs to the plot owners, every one of whom is entitled to a voice in its management and control. It is in no sense a speculative enterprise, but is an earnest effort to supply a resting place for the dead. Its lands are exempt from taxation, and the plots cannot be sold upon execution for debt issued against the plot owner. The plots become absolutely inalienable after a burial is made in them, except with the consent and upon an order issued by the Supreme Court. The humane policy of the law provides that the repose of the dead shall not be disturbed by hungry greed or cruel misfortune.
It is without rival in the grandeur and beauty of its location. Its surface is undulating, and presents every variety of landscape. Its knolls command long stretches of Hudson River scenery, running many miles north and south. The Pocantico River, a beautiful stream, ripples through it. No spot on the entire American continent is richer in legendary lore or fuller of historical incidents. Sleepy Hollow has a place in the classical literature of the country. A portion of its territory was fortified and stoutly maintained by the patriots during the American Revolution. Many of the old war-worn heroes are buried near by – still presumably holding vigil over the redoubt which they there threw up. Every step in the development of this country has its record there. The early settlers buried their loved ones there, and every succeeding generation has contributed its quota. Millions of dollars have already been spent in commemorating these dead. The spot is so rich in material wealth, and so strong in historical association that it is incredible that it will ever be diverted from the sacred purpose to which it is now consecrated.
The early pioneers selected a spot on the Pocantico, near its junction with the Hudson River, for the site of “The Old Dutch Church of the Manor of Phillipsburgh.” They were from Holland, and knew nothing of either the English language, laws or customs. They commenced burying their dead as early as 1650 in “The Old Dutch Grave Yard,” with which they surrounded the church building. Many of the headstones which they erected remain, but they bear inscriptions in a language which has become obsolete and is unknown in the locality. The site was so well selected that it has been accepted by the succeeding generations. The old graveyard has been superseded by a carefully conserved modern cemetery. Its grounds have been enlarged several times, till now they embrace nearly one hundred acres. Over thirty nine thousand dead rest in its soil. Pioneers, warriors, statesmen, scholars and men who were active in all of the various offices and affairs of life join in the throng. It has become indeed a city of the dead.
It has been an evolution. It needed a definite name, as it emerged from a country graveyard and become a carefully supervised cemetery. Washington Irving, formerly one of its Trustees, christened it “Sleepy Hollow,” writing that the name is “enough of itself to secure the patronage of all desirous of sleeping quietly in their graves.” “If ever I should wish for a retreat, whither I might steal from the world, and its distractions, . . . I know of none more promising than this little valley.” Under this sweet name and in this little valley he has already slept quietly these many years. Other cemeteries have unwarrantedly adopted and are using the name, but the divine repose and restful quiet, which give it its only value, are exclusively the property of this locality. It has been the Mecca of many a pilgrimage already. Time will, by natural law, add more to its attractiveness. Death is stripped of many of its pangs when it transplants to such surroundings.