It’s widely known that many of the landmarks in Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow are based on real places in the villages of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, NY. Some of the Legend‘s landmarks, such as the Old Dutch Church and Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, have become local tourist attractions complete with walking tour apps available for your iPad.
However some of the Legend‘s landmarks remain relatively obscure. A few years ago I began to wonder about one such place; Raven Rock. In Irving’s story, Ichabod Crane visits the home of his sweetheart Katrina Van Tassel for a dinner party. The elder villagers at the party begin telling Ichabod local ghost stories, including the story of Raven Rock:
“Some mention was made also of the woman in white, that haunted the dark glen at Raven Rock, and was often heard to shriek on winter nights before a storm, having perished there in the snow”.
So I stopped by the Warner Library in Tarrytown to do a little research. In The Place Names of Historic Sleepy Hollow & Tarrytown by Sleepy Hollow’s official Village Historian, Henry Steiner, I found this entry for Raven Rock:
“A ghostly woman in white is said to haunt a large rock in Pocantico Hills. The rock is in a dark and foreboding glen on the east side of Buttermilk Hill, southeast of Ferguson Lake”.
A second volume, Jeff Canning and Wally Buxton’s History of the Tarrytowns, gives an expanded description:
“Raven Rock is part of Buttermilk Hill in the northern reaches of the Rockefeller estate near the old Hawthorne Traffic Circle. Legend tells us that three ghosts, not just Irving’s lady in white, roam the area.
The lady in white was a girl who got lost in a snowstorm and sought shelter from the fierce wind in a ravine by the rock. The snow drifted in and she perished during the night. It is believed that the spirit of the lady meets the wanderer with cries that resemble the howling of the wind, and gestures that remind one of drifting snow, warning all to stay away from the fatal spot.
A more ancient legend tells of an Indian maiden who was driven to her death at Raven Rock by a jealous lover. Her spirit is believed to roam the area, lamenting her fate.
The third spirit is that of a colonial girl who fled from the attentions of an amorous Tory raider during the Revolution and leaped from the rock to her death“.
So it looks like Raven Rock is a real place! And if I was going to find it I had to begin looking on the east side of Buttermilk Hill. But how would I know it when I saw it? Would it be just a big rock in the woods?
So when I walked down the trail on a cold January day and saw this:
I felt like this:
This had to be Raven Rock! If ever there was a big scary rock that inspired ghost stories 200 years ago, this was it. So I mustered my courage and re-photographed the view from the Owens book for comparison:
I didn’t meet any “woman in white”, “Indian maidens”, or “colonial girls”; but with the wind growing colder and the sun setting soon I didn’t stick around too long either.
I’ve been back many times since then, and I’ll leave you with one last photo of a truly legendary place.
For detailed hiking directions for reaching Raven Rock click here.