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A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: Washington Irving in Walt Disney World

By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on


By Jim Korkis

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a short story by American writer Washington Irving that was first published in 1820. It tells the timeless tale of schoolteacher Ichabod Crane’s memorable encounter with a Headless Horseman who rides on Halloween night looking for a head to replace the one he lost to a flying cannonball. Irving is actually buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

When The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1949) was first run on the weekly Disney television show on October 26th, 1955, to fill out the hour, a new fourteen minute animated segment about the life of author Washington Irving was included.

The new prologue told about Irving’s life and adventures as a child in Manhattan, New York, which included visiting old and abandoned houses that were said to be haunted, and even visiting Sleepy Hollow itself. The prologue also shows Irving’s time as a writer and his trips to different countries of Europe. This animated prologue has unfortunately never been released on any form of home media.

(c) Disney

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow seemed a natural fit for Liberty Square at Walt Disney World, especially since the Haunted Mansion was not in New Orleans as at Disneyland but now resided in the Hudson River Valley which was the location for Irving’s story. The architecture of the mansion reflects that location and time period.

When Liberty Square was being built at the Magic Kingdom in 1970, Imagineer Tony Baxter pitched the idea of a dark ride based on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow to help the transition of the intersection from Fantasyland to Liberty Square. Guests would have ridden in hollowed-out spinning jack-o-lanterns through a variety of scenes from the story until the final dramatic confrontation with the headless horseman.

However the area set aside for that attraction was used for the Yankee Trader shop that eventually became what is today the Memento Mori (“Remember that you will die”) shop opposite the Columbia Harbour House.

The exterior architecture of the Sleepy Hollow food and beverage location at the entrance to Liberty Square is based on the tiny, two-room cottage that writer Irving purchased on ten acres along the banks of the Hudson River in Tarrytown, New York.

Irving spent many years remodeling and expanding the cottage, combining elements of colonial New York architecture and buildings he knew in Scotland and Spain. He named it Sunnyside in 1841, and history shows that it was usually busy with lots of friends and family.

The Sleepy Hollow food and beverage location in Walt Disney World offers a souvenir plastic stein with the image of Ichabod on one side and the Headless Horseman on the other.

When the shop building opposite the Hall of Presidents was converted and reopened February 1996 as Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe, one of the new stores was devoted to music.

Outside the music shop was a sign stating “Music & Voice Lessons by appointment, Ichabod Crane, Instructor”, a profession that Ichabod did to earn some additional money from his regular teaching assignment.

The spooky Headless Horseman rides from Frontierland to Main Street U.S.A. in advance of each performance of Mickey’s “Boo To You” Halloween Parade as part of the separately ticketed Mickey’s Not-So Scary Halloween Party.

Over the decades, the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground has offered several different experiences where guests can have an encounter with the Headless Horseman during the Halloween season.

So images from Irving’s most famous short story are in evidence throughout Liberty Square, and elsewhere in Walt Disney World, for those who care to take the time to look.

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Thanks, Jim!  And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his new Halloween-appropriate Vault of Walt Volume 9: Halloween Edition, and his other new book, Hidden Treasures of the Disney Cruise Line.


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