The success of Washington Irving’s 1819/1820 collection of short stories called The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon cemented the Manhattan-born writer’s fame, and in turn — in spite of his absence, having spent the last half decade overseas rubbing elbows with London literati — helped bolster New York City’s status as a literary city.
None of the book’s stories are about New York City, but two of them — his most enduring creations — explored and expanded supernatural folklore surrounding Dutch-settled villages upstate: “Rip Van Winkle” (set in the Catskills) and, of course, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
The first New York edition of The Sketch Book was printed in seven separately-issued parts by a printer on Greenwich Street named Cornelius S. Van Winkle, whose surname was, counter to what one might guess, apparently just a coincidence.
When in 1832, after seventeen years abroad, Irving finally returned to New York as the city's first bona fide literary celebrity, a welcoming banquet crowd cheered when he announced that he planned to remain there for the rest of his life. A few years later he settled instead about 25 miles up the Hudson — among the environs of his “Sleepy Hollow” — in an old Dutch house that had once been owned by the real life Van Tassels, whose name he’d borrowed for the family of Katrina, the romantic interest of Ichabod Crane.
As part of our month-long Dear NYC series, we're looking at New York City gems hidden away at the New York Public Library. The NYPL’s four research centers offer the public access to over 55 million items, including rare books, manuscripts, letters, diaries, photographs, prints, maps, ephemera, and more. Integral to these robust collections is the Library’s extensive material related to New York City, and as NY works to come together, cope, heal and recover from the 2020 pandemic, economic uncertainty, and the many issues that divide us, it is important to look at that history and remember: New York is resilient. New York is strong. New York has seen its share of hard times. And, as always, with Patience and Fortitude (the names given to the Library’s beloved lions in 1933 by Mayor LaGuardia for the virtues New Yorkers needed to get through the Great Depression) we will get through it, together.