Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and its Legendary Specters

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and its Legendary Specters - Photo

If you live anywhere near Sleepy Hollow, New York, you’ve definitely heard of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and the ‘Bronze Lady’ that is said to haunt the grounds. Over the years, succeeding generations of Sleepy Hollow residents, the people Washington Irving described as subject to ‘trances and visions,’ have created ghostly mythology about the statue. Some claim to have heard the weeping, others to have felt the tears of this sculpture, which gazes sadly at the tomb of the Civil War general Samuel M. Thomas.

They call her the Bronze Lady. She might also be called the Other Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

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The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Settlers found their way into Sleepy Hollow early on and were well-established by the turn of the nineteenth century. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is located in the namesake Sleepy Hollow, New York.

Named after the famous Washington Irvine story, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery’s ghostly name fits its legendary tales.

“From the listless repose of the place, and the peculiar character of its inhabitants, who are descendants from the original Dutch settlers, this sequestered glen has long been known by name of Sleepy Hollow … A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere.” 

— Washington Irving, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

The story itself is set in 1790 in the countryside. Sleepy Hollow is renowned for its ghosts and haunting atmosphere in which the residents of the fictional town believe that the town was bewitched during the early days of the settlement. The story then turns to the infamous Headless Horseman, the most infamous specter in the Hollow and the “commander-in-chief of all the powers of the air.” He is supposedly the restless spirit of a Hessian trooper whose head had been shot off by a stray cannonball during “some nameless battle” of the Revolution and who “rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head.”

The Legend of the Bronze Lady

As recounted by Mr. Marmo in the New York Times:

‘She was someone you learned about from the older kids, someone who knew the way would take you there. At one time you could hardly find it — tall rhododendrons hid it.

If you knocked on the door of the general’s tomb and looked through the keyhole, you would have a bad dream that night. Of course, that always worked. There was another one where, if you slapped her in the face, sat in her lap, and spit in her eye, she would haunt you for the rest of your life. There was always one brave kid who did it.’


Sara Mascia, the curator of the Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow Historical Society, stated that:

‘I’ve heard about her crying. People have told me that she weeps because of some tragedy in her life. Of course, you can find scientific explanations for the tears — the sculpture interacting with the environment and all that. What I used to hear when I was a kid was that if you’re nice to the statue, she’ll take care of you.’


The sculpture sits proudly between two large pine trees in the cemetery, watching over those that visit.

The work, by Andrew O’Connor Jr., was commissioned by General Thomas’s widow shortly after his death on Jan. 14, 1903. The statue is called Recuillement, or Grief, and was intended as a memorial figure to be placed in front of the general’s tomb. When he died in 1903, his widow, Ann, had him laid to rest in a mausoleum at the top of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

Ann didn’t think a mausoleum was enough to mark the memory of her millionaire husband. She wanted something more. She wanted a sculpture to adorn Samuel’s grave. Alas, the Bronze Lady and all her strange legends and lore were born.

While these tales may be nothing more than local legend, more than a handful of other ghostly encounters have been reported in the cemetery…

Hauntings of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Washington Irvine is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, and visitors to his grave tell of strange occurrences. Bright orbs are reportedly dancing around his gravesite and surrounding mausoleums, flitting and floating about the historic burying ground.

And, of course, there’s the legend of the Bronze Lady and her otherworldly abilities and effect on the living.

One visitor to the cemetery told of his experience with the statue when he was just a kid. He stated that he and a few of his grade-school friends snuck out after the street lights had come on to pay a visit to the Bronze Lady. As they approached her, the warm early-spring environment changed to chilly fog. They slowly made their way into her field of vision, and one of the kids got close enough to touch her hands.

Some of the children didn’t believe the lore and kicked the Bronze Lady in the shins — they would soon regret it, as when they started to leave the cemetery, a large root that seemed to appear out of nowhere knocked the shin-kicker off balance and slammed his face into the dirt.

Coincidence? Perhaps.

Regardless of what’s only tall tales, you won’t catch us sitting on (or near) the Bronze Lady’s cold and seemingly unforgiving lap.

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