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Episode 22: Roosting in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

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“This was one of the favorite haunts of the headless horseman; and the place where he was most frequently encountered. The tale was told of old Brouwer, a most heretical disbeliever in ghosts, how he met the horseman returning from his foray into Sleepy Hollow, and was obliged to get up behind him; how they galloped over bush and brake, over hill and swamp, until they reached the bridge; when the horseman suddenly turned into a skeleton, threw old Brouwer into the brook, and sprang away over the tree-tops with a clap of thunder…The stories of Brouwer, of Bones, and a whole budget of others, were called to mind; and when they had diligently considered them all, and compared them with the symptoms of the present case, they shook their heads, and came to the conclusion that Ichabod had been carried off by the Galloping Hessian.”[i]

Do you recognize this story…of course you do. It is after all, a legend. By definition, a legend is based in some historical fact. Whether or not you believe in ghosts, that is up to you. I do, however, want you to believe that many of the characters in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, were inspired by real people, who lived and breathed, once upon a time, in Sleepy Hollow, including Old Brouwer who is a character based on my 9th Great Grandfather.

Welcome to the Maple Family Treehouse, I am Kael. Bringing you a ghostly family story that I hope you retell around the fire this yuletide season. There are a few migrations stories in today’s episode. This is a branch of my tree that I am the least familiar with. It is from my paternal grandfather’s line – Robert James Sharman. His mother, Isabella Bouk, or Bella as she was called, was born here in Ontario Canada, near London.

Now, according to the Delaware and Westminster family history book that my Grandma Bessie Sharman gave me, “The Bouk Family immigrated here in 1812 along with other United Empire Loyalists”[ii] That is the short, sweet, no nonsense, Canadian version. According to the History of Schoharie County, the context is just a tad more dramatic, “The Border Wars of New York, in the great struggle with England for American nationality, originated some of the most thrilling incidents that ever did, or ever can stamp the pages of history.”[iii] That is the US version. I am going to try to find some middle ground here, but given that I begin this story with the Legend of Sleepy Hollow and will try return full circle to that legend by the end of this episode, no promises, but, I WILL try an honor those colorful ancestors Washington Irving found so inspiring.

Ok, back to my paternal great grandmother, Bella Bouk.

From records I found, Bella’s Great grandfather, Frederick Bouck came to Canada initially in 1796 from Schoharie. Perhaps he did eventually settle permanently here in 1812, as it states in the Delaware and Westminster family history books. But the chaos preceding 1812 and the array of records for Frederick in both New York and Ontario lead me to believe there was some, back and forth, and his family had connections in Ontario going back as far as 1777.[iv] The Bouck family had lived in Schoharie for 3 generations by that time. Frederick’s great grandfather, Johan Bouck, came to Schoharie from Germany. His Son, Johannes Bouck grew up in Schoharie and married Magdalena Ecker.

It is the Ecker family that features prominently in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Magdalena’s maternal great grandfather is Mathys Brouwer, the Old Brouwer that was mentioned in the opening of today’s episode. Magdalena’s paternal great great grandfather is Wolfert Ecker. Wolfert also migrated to Schoharie from Germany. Wolfert was born in Germany in 1605. It is unclear exactly when Wolfert came to the United States, but by 1631, He was in Scohahrie where his son Steffan Ecker was born. The family lived in the second largest Manor in Schoharie, a stone house that was by all accounts, stately, but also charming. The manor changed hands a few times before Washington Irving purchased it. It was Irving who coined the term Wolfert’s Roost, a name that would to this day tie Wolfert Ecker to the house – since the house itself has a role in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. The history of the house was written by Geoffery Crayon, who states,

“It was a lowly edifice, built in the time of the Dutch dynasty, and stood on a green bank, overshadowed by trees, from which it peeped forth upon the Great Tappan Zee, so famous among early Dutch navigators. A bright pure spring welled up at the foot of the green bank; a wild brook came babbling down a neighboring ravine, and threw itself into a little woody cove, in front of the mansion. It was indeed as quiet and sheltered a nook as the heart of man could require, in which to take refuge from the cares and troubles of the world; and as such, it had been chosen in old times, by Wolfert Acker, one of the privy councilors of the renowned Peter Stuyvesant.

This worthy but ill-starred man had led a weary and worried life, throughout the stormy reign of the chivalric Peter, being one of those unlucky wights with whom the world is ever at variance, and who are

kept in a continual fume and fret, by the wickedness of mankind. At the time of the subjugation of the province by the English, he retired hither in high dudgeon; with the bitter determination to bury himself from the world and live here in peace and quietness for the remainder of his days. In token of this fixed resolution, he inscribed over his door the favorite Dutch motto, “Lust in Rust,” [meaning] (pleasure in repose.) The mansion was thence called “Wolfert’s Rust”—Wolfert’s Rest; but in process of time, the name [had morphed] into Wolfert’s Roost, probably from its quaint cock-loft look, or from its having a weather-cock perched on every gable. This name it continued to bear, long after the unlucky Wolfert was driven forth once more upon a wrangling world, by the tongue of a termagant wife; for it passed into a proverb through the neighborhood, and has been handed down by tradition, that the cock of the Roost was the most hen-pecked bird in the country.”[v]

With such dramatic and colorful documentation, it is no wonder that Irving was taken in by these characters, and the landscape that sets the stage for one of the most notorious ghost stories – the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

This is, we must not forget the land of the Iroquois, who inhabited the land since time immemorial. The Iroquois have a legend of a forest monster that is a head without a body. I think it is only fitting to end the episode with this story:

Legend has it that a man spotted a flying head with a bright glow, soaring through treetops of the forest. He hurried back to the village and told everyone to leave as fast as they could. Everyone left, except for a woman who stayed with her new baby.

“The woman sat beside the hearth and built a great fiery blaze, that she used to heat stones to a red-hot glow. Suddenly the Flying Head appeared, its horrible mouth drooling as it looked into the longhouse from the far end. Not giving any sign that she noticed it, the young woman stared into the fire eating roasted hazelnuts. She poked at the hot rocks with a stick and pretended to put them in her mouth, all the while eating the hazelnuts. With each “bite,” she closed her eyes with a satisfied hum and declared how tasty her food was.

The monster watched, growing hungrier and hungrier until it could wait no longer. He stuck his head far into the longhouse and swallowed the entire heap of burning rocks. A horrible scream pierced the night, and the monster thrashed its wings and flew off into the dark forest, screaming in agony and rage. He screamed so loud that the trees trembled as it flew past.

People scattered here and there in the forest falling to the ground and covering their ears. The monster kept screaming as he flew farther and farther away from the longhouse. When finally its screams faded, and the commotion in the forest settled, the people returned home to their hero who had tricked the hungry flying head.”[vi]

In this tale, the Iroquois people found a way to defeat their monster lurking in the woods. Unfortunately, we are left with no comparable defense against the headless horseman. Perhaps one day the two will meet and find peace. But until then, no one is safe. Take extra care this season of long cold nights, make your own peace by the fireside, and in the words of my 10th great grandfather, Wolfert Eker, Lust in Rust.

Peace to you all this Yuletide season.

[i] Washington Irving. (1819). The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Retrieved on Dec19, 2022. p. 31, 32, 38. [ii] Delaware and Westminster Townships: Together in History. Vol. 2. (Nov. 2006). The Westminster Township Historical Society. p. 71. [iii] History of Schoharie County, and Border Wars of New York: Containing also a sketch of the causes which led to the American Revolution; and interesting memoranda of the Mohawk Valley.,0.635,0.947,0.437,0 Ch1, p. 3. [iv] Ibid, Ch. 7, p. 212 [v] Washington Irving. Geoffery Crayon, in The Chronicles of Wolfert’s Roost. p. 2. [vi] Ellen Lloyd. Accessed on Dec. 20, 2022.

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