by Henry John Steiner
Historian of Sleepy Hollow
Just a few personal thoughts…
I reflect with gratitude on an important date in Sleepy Hollow history, something particularly meaningful to me. Twenty years ago this month, along with many other dedicated folks, I helped to recover Sleepy Hollow’s identity. It was lost and we found it. That I am able to say this means a lot to me.
December 10th, 1996, was the rewarding culmination of a significant struggle. Through it, we were able to reinstate the legacy of Sleepy Hollow as an important historic and legendary American place. My colleagues and I saw the thing that we had worked so long and hard for finally come to pass. Many committed women and men joined in the campaign, and among them was my friend and Renaming Campaign co-leader, Christopher Skelly.
Chris and I had a long and rewarding partnership in this quest. For years we worked together to return the identity of Sleepy Hollow to its proper place. He and I each served terms as President of the Sleepy Hollow Society in the years leading up to the 1996 referendum. At the time of the vote it was Chris who held that office, while I continued in my perennial role as chairman of the society’s “renaming committee.”
For us the project of renaming the village demanded a great deal of time and personal commitment. It was a labor of love for both of us, a task that started out even before the unsuccessful village referendum of 1988. Chris and I vividly remember the dim and discouraging years when it seemed like we two were the only ones who truly believed that the Sleepy Hollow Renaming could still become a reality. Today, it might surprise many to learn that the idea of renaming the village was not in fact a “no-brainer.”
At this distance from the event it may be hard for many to understand the difficulties and uncertainties we struggled against in finally achieving our aim. Few will now remember the 1988 referendum. There was substantial resistance to the idea of renaming the village, opposition that we could only come to terms with through the efforts and the dedication of our many friends who participated in the campaign.
The referendum won. We celebrated. And we wondered what the future would hold. Now we have reached a milestone on the path to the future of Sleepy Hollow. The village is 142 years old, but it has only been reconnected to its famous identity for twenty years—on this December 10th, 2016.
I know Chris will join me in expressing appreciation and gratitude to those who worked with us—each for different reasons and each in his or her own way. They worked to bring about the important result on that day. Many of our most motivated colleagues in the campaign have sadly passed out of our lives in the past two decades, including my late wife, Judy. We celebrate their contributions to this important quest. To all who campaigned with us and to all who in this day call the Village of Sleepy Hollow their home, we say, Happy Twentieth Anniversary! This is the anniversary of the day we renamed our village Sleepy Hollow. The name was our legacy, and we recaptured it on that December day.
Over the years, we, the “name-changers,” have, somewhat sporadically, sought to observe the yearly anniversary of the 1996 renaming referendum by re-enacting a bell-ringing at the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow. It has been a tradition since the evening of the renaming vote. On that night, there was a spontaneous assembly at the Old Dutch, and members of our campaign rang out the news of the successful village renaming. It was a symbolic act and required the use of the three-century-old bell cast in Holland in 1685. The late, Bill Lent, sexton of the church at the time, helped to make that possible. For many years afterward, on December 10th, we would commemorate renaming anniversaries with other bell-ringings—when we remembered to. And then there were anniversary nights when no formal observance was planned. On such nights, I would get a late call from Bill Lent who wondered why nobody had showed up. Then I’d break away from what I was doing, jump into my car, and drive over to meet Bill. He and I would ring the bell ourselves. Bill died just a few years ago, and as the years go by, I confess, I miss that phone call…
This year, I think I will observe the 20th anniversary of the renaming in a quiet way—no bell-ringing, just a reflective walk on my own. Maybe I will hike along the Pocantico River into that place—that unique geographic feature long ago named Sleepy Hollow. It is that famous river valley that gave our village its name. I think one could say that Sleepy Hollow was lost for a long time, but we have managed to find it again…
The following list includes many of those who significantly supported and furthered this historic renaming effort. I regret that the list is unavoidably incomplete…
William E. Brady
Alice D. Croke
Nancy J. Gartin
John T. Hayes, Jr.
Mary Ann Herlihy
William “Bill” Lent
Mary Ann Marshall
Anne Marie Nachel
James K. Paulding
Jean-Pierre Van Lent
Paul S. Vydareny
the Whalen brothers
©2016 Henry John Steiner