When General Motors closed its Hudson River plant in New York in 1996 for cheaper property elsewhere, the Village of 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 that same year to rebrand North Tarrytown as Sleepy Hollow, in honour of Washington Irving’s 1820 short story “Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
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.
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 a nudge from the FOX drama of the same name, tourism has further picked up in the past couple years.
“Everything is all about the Headless Horseman now,” Sleepy Hollow village administrator Anthony Giaccio told Business Insider last year, referring to the iconic ghoul of Irving’s tale.
Giaccio noted that even when it was North Tarrytown, its high school was always known as Sleepy Hollow High and its teams known as the Horsemen, 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 organisation transforms the historical landmark Philipsburg Manor every autumn into a haunted house that, of course, also features the Horseman.
And in between these attractions, tourists can grab an Ichabod Ale at one of the town’s bars. The beer may be from Michigan, but its name allows it to fit perfectly into the experience.
Giaccio said 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 estimated that about 100,000 tourists come through during that time.
There has been some opposition to the Sleepy Hollow brand since ’96, Giaccio said — “North Tarrytown Forever” bumper stickers are a thing — but he attributes it more to a feeling of nostalgia than a hatred of tourists. He said the critics don’t understand that the name has kept their town alive.
Giaccio said that he 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 Sleepy Hollow government even invited “Sleepy Hollow” cast members Orlando Jones and Lyndie Greenwood to kick off the Halloween season last year. The show’s ratings are in a steep decline this year, but it has already taught millions of Americans that Sleepy Hollow is indeed a real place they can visit.
There’s an obvious parallel to America’s No. 1 Halloween destination Salem, Massachusetts, and it’s why the Sleepy Hollow government sends scouts there. Salem, as site of the infamous Salem witch trials of the 17th century, has built a thriving fall economy on its dark history. Sleepy Hollow scouts have studied the way Salem has successfully associated itself with fall and the supernatural thrills of Halloween, glimmers of which exist there even in the dead of summer.
“We have a long way to go,” Giaccio said, explaining that Sleepy Hollow has only realised in the past several years that embracing the Halloween spirit brings a surge of energy and revenue to the village. The village government is still testing ways to attract tourists during the three seasons the Horseman isn’t sauntering about the cemetery amid orange foliage.
“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 said.
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