On this day in 1859, writer, essayist, poet & travel book writer Washington Irving passed away at his home Sunnyside in Tarrytown, New York. Best known for his stories The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, Irving developed a passion for books as a youngster growing up in New York City.
His writing career started in journals and newspapers in the early 1800s. In 1809 his comic history of the Dutch regime in New York - titled A History of New York - was published. Written under the name Dietrich Knickerbocker, the story was an unusual and unique blend of fantasy and history. The satirical tale became part of New York folklore and the made-up name Knickerbocker went on to mean any New Yorker who could trace one's family to Dutch settlers. (Little did Irving know that a certain New York pro basketball team would go on to borrow its name from Knickerbocker.)
Recognizable to most Disney fans is Irving's short story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (which was contained in a collection titled The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent). First published in 1820 it is among the earliest examples of American fiction still read today and a popular Halloween-themed tale. Disney's 1949 animated feature The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad features an adaptation of Irving's headless horseman story. The story of Ichabod Crane is narrated by Bing Crosby and features the work of veteran animators Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, John Lounsbery, Wolfgang Reitherman, Milt Kahl, and Ward Kimball.
But Irving's impact on American culture stretches beyond Sleepy Hollow. He popularized the nickname "Gotham" for New York City (as all dedicated Batman fans know). Irving also popularized the phrase "the almighty dollar." But one of his most lasting contributions to our culture is the way we perceive and celebrate Christmas. In a revision to a History of New York, Irving wrote a dream sequence featuring St. Nicholas soaring over treetops in a flying wagon! In fact his good friend & writer Charles Dickens credited Iriving as a strong influence in his own holiday writing - A Christmas Carol.
On the evening of November 28, 1859 - Irving died of a heart attack in his bedroom at the age of 76. Legend has it that his final words were: "Well, I must arrange my pillows for another night. When will this end?"
Today Irving's home Sunnyside still stands (just south of the Tapanzee Bridge) in Tarrytown, New York. It is owned and operated as an historic site.
Click HERE for more November 28 Disney history.