Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” is helping to revitalize and a sleepy New York town.
Although the story is fictional, Irving set his tale in a real village, which is today a short train ride north of New York City. The village was officially named North Tarrytown in 1883 and kept that moniker for over a century.
But when General Motors left its Hudson River plant in 1996 for cheaper property elsewhere, North Tarrytown lost more than 4,000 jobs and its main source of tax revenue. To avoid letting their hometown fall into destitution, locals decided to think like marketers and voted to rebrand North Tarrytown as Sleepy Hollow.
The name change transformed the industrial town into a spooky destination and a beautiful fall attraction for New Yorkers. Irving’s classic story looms over the entire village, and, with the help of the TV show, tourism has further picked up in the past couple years.
“Everything is all about the Headless Horseman now,” Sleepy Hollow village administrator Anthony Giaccio tells Business Insider.
He points out that even when it was North Tarrytown, its high school was always known as Sleepy Hollow High with the Horsemen playing for its sports teams, but today you can find the Horseman chasing Ichabod on the village’s ambulances, cop cars, and fire engines.
Tourists can visit the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Irving is buried, and take photos with the Horseman himself.
The Historic Hudson Valley organization transforms the historical landmark Philipsburg Manor into a haunted house that, yes, also features the horseman.
And in between these attractions, tourists can grab an Ichabod Ale at a local pub — the beer may be from Michigan, but its name is too good to pass up.
Giaccio tells us that the village, with a population of 10,000, has never hired a company to measure exactly how much revenue comes in during its peak season, which is from late September through early November, but he estimates that about 100,000 tourists come through during that time.
There has been some opposition to the Sleepy Hollow brand since ’96, Giaccio says — “North Tarrytown Forever” bumper stickers are a thing — but he attributes it more to a feeling of nostalgia than a hatred of tourists. He says the critics don’t understand how the name has kept their town alive.
Giaccio says that he’s found that the village has really started to embrace the Sleepy Hollow brand since the TV show debuted in September 2013. It has featured shots of and references to the actual village, thanks to a tourism advertising deal the town secured with New York’s state government.
The government also sent scouts out to America’s No. 1 Halloween destination, Salem, Massachusetts, the site of the infamous Salem witch trials, to see how a town can brand itself to be associated with a season.
“We have a long way to go,” Giaccio says, explaining that the village has only recently realized how embracing the Halloween spirit has brought a surge of energy and revenue to the village. They still need to figure out a way to lure tourists in during Halloween and convince them to return at other times of the year.
“There’s a lot of stuff that we really need to figure out how to do a better job at. But each and every year we get a little better,” Giaccio says.
For more information about Great Jack O’ Lantern Blaze Festival please visit: http://www.hudsonvalley.org/events/blaze
By Richard Feloni