More about Washington Irving ...
Still later, when I taught college-prep juniors at Western Reserve Academy, I gave them a little “reading guide” to the stories, a guide on which I defined for them words like inveterate, cognomen, supernumerary, ferule, chopfallen, and numerous others. And, of course, I showed them the Disney film that had terrified me. They loved it.
Joyce and I were also visiting Irving sites here and there. Including Tarrytown. And Sleepy Hollow. The local high school is called Sleepy Hollow High—and their mascot? A Headless Horseman. It seemed a bit bizarre to me, having as a symbol of your educational institution a guy with no head—and, obviously, no brain.
Irving’s gravesite is in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, located in, well, Sleepy Hollow. His is a modest stone that mentions only his name, his dates of birth and death (1783–1859).
Not so the nearby site where lie the remains of Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919), who selected that cemetery because he was an admirer of Irving’s work. (Hard to imagine that their lives overlapped by some twenty-four years; the year Irving died, Carnegie was promoted to superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Pittsburgh Division.) I’d gotten interested in Carnegie about a decade ago when I began writing a memoir about my life as a reader (and, in adolescence, a non-reader). I’d planned to begin the work with a visit to my boyhood library, the Carnegie Public Library in Enid, Oklahoma—but then I discovered (via my mom) that the city had razed that gorgeous building in 1972 and erected some big and “modern” and ugly structure. Oh well. Still, my research sent me off on an adventure of discovery about Carnegie and his library program. I published the book myself on Kindle Direct. I’d recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer—a disease that has appeared for a number of repeat engagements—and did not have the energy (or, surely, the time) to commence a long search for an agent and/or a publisher.
Anyway, Carnegie’s gravesite had once featured armed security guards—no longer necessary. It still features a stone, a small grove, an obelisk—not so modest. But I wonder: Today, in 2016, if you were to ask The Person on the Street, Tell me about Andrew Carnegie—and then, Tell me about Washington Irving— about whom would you hear more? Might be a toss-up. Carnegie’s name is still on many libraries, on concert halls. Everyone’s heard of (if not read) “Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip.”
By far our favorite Irving site, though, is his former home—now open to the public—“Sunnyside,” in Tarrytown, New York, alongside the Hudson River. We’ve visited quite a few times.