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Sept. 19, 2023

Hulda of Sleepy Hollow: Herbalist, Healer, Hero

Hulda of Sleepy Hollow: Herbalist, Healer, Hero

Sleepy Hollow, New York's most well-known haunting story is that of the headless horseman, a Hessian soldier who quite literally lost his head during the Revolutionary War. He rides his coal black steed throughout the countryside in search of his missing cranium and woe to the living who cross his path. That story, however, we know to be a work of fiction by Sleepy Hollow Cemetery's most famous co-founder and resident, Washington Irving.

There are however, many stories buried within the cemetery associated with real people who lived real lives and one of those stories belongs to a woman who is known as Sleepy Hollow’s very own witch, Hulda. Her cottage was in the woods far from town, and she mostly kept to herself. Many of Sleepy Hollow's residents (at that time Tarry Town) believed she was a healer and  she was known as a keeper of all that is natural. She knew where the boneset grew, and vervain, and mandrake, and calamus.  Her home was full of the sweet odor of plants drying as they hung from the rafters, and she often left baskets of apothecarian remedies on the doorsteps of the townsfolk. However, because she was a single woman who lived alone and behaved differently than what was expected of a woman of her station, it was whispered about that she was a witch. Fortunately she was mostly left alone because she had helped so many recover from illness or relieved pain from other ailments such as arthritis. 

One night, around the year 1777, the dreaded Red Coats came storming through the woods, firing their weapons upon one and all. Hulda grabbed her own musket. Her aim was good, and she took down several of them before they were able to shoot her dead. After the smoke cleared, the town discovered her lifeless body and chose to honor her by burying her within their little churchyard. An honor very rarely bestowed upon those who had been named "witch". It was rumored that her grave was placed near the north wall of the Old Dutch Church though it was left unmarked for many centuries.

In 2019, a special ceremony was held to place a marker within the cemetery. The marker reads, "Hulda of Bohemia. Died c. 1777. Herbalist, Healer, Patriot. Felled by the British while protecting the Militia. Buried here in gratitude for her sacrifice.'"

The Old Dutch Church and its attached burial ground was founded in 1685. Buried alongside Hulda are many of the families who inspired Washington Irving in his writings, including the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. A stroll through the two and a half acres of the old burial ground reveals many Dutch names including the name Van Tassel, and some of the oldest stones include Dutch inscriptions. While it is often assumed that this burial ground is part of Sleepy Hollow cemetery, which butts right up to it, it is in actuality its own separate entity and the church is still an active congregation. The grave of Washington Irving, located in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, faces the old church and churchyard that he loved so much in life. 

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