For today’s Halloween record, we’re going way back to 1820 to bring you a classic ghost story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving. Of course the record we’ll be listening to today is based on the 1949 Disney animated adaptation, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad was the eleventh animated feature from Disney and one of several animated anthologies from the company during the mid-1940s like The Three Caballeros and Make Mine Music. During World War II, Disney made these anthology films because they weren’t able to tap into the overseas market due to the war, so they focused instead on smaller, cheaper films in an effort to maximize box office potential. They would return to full-length features in 1950 with Cinderella.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is paired with an adaptation of The Wind in the Willows, written by Kenneth Gram. The Wind in the Willows is a fairly light-hearted affair about a talking mole, rat, and badger who help their friend Mr. Toad, who is obsessed with motorcars, after he becomes involved in an automobile accident. This contrasts sharply with the horrific tale of Ichabod Crane, a ladies-man school teacher in 19th Century New York, who is attacked by a local legend, The Headless Horseman.
The story goes that the Horseman tries to behead his victims in order to replace his missing noggin. But you can escape his wrath if you cross the covered bridge on the edge of town. In case you’re wondering, yes, putting these two tales together was an odd choice indeed.
Still, the animation – especially in the Headless Horseman sequences – is top notch. The look and feel of the Horseman has become iconic at this point, so clearly Disney was doing something right. If you want to check it out, head over to Disney+ and you’ll get the full experience.
While I could go on about the film or the record for today’s episode, I thought it would be more fun to share the story of my own encounter with The Headless Horseman.
The year was 1983 and I was part of a small group of kids in my small hometown that had formed a Cub Scout Troop. We normally met in town at the Scout Master’s house, but for Halloween, we were invited out into the country at another member’s house for a bonfire.
The house and their small stable were near a river and backed up to some fairly dense woods, especially for central Illinois. I remember we were all dressed in our costumes – I think that was the year my Mom made an Ewok costume for me – and had spent the evening playing Halloween games, carving pumpkins, and eating hot dogs and s’mores roasted over the fire. Wholesome as all get out, right?
It was pretty dark out there in the country with only the campfire to light our surroundings, so it took us a moment to notice a horse galloping out of the woods, with a headless rider on top! As the rider approached, we saw that they were dressed in 19th century clothes and were holding a flaming jack-o-lantern under their arm. When they got to our campfire, the horse reared up and the rider threw the pumpkin at our feet, smashing it to pieces. The horse reared up a few more times amidst our terrified shrieks, before turning around and galloping back into the woods from whence he came. It’s no exaggeration to say we were gleefully scared out of our little minds.
A few minutes later, after we’d settled down, the horseman came back and we found that it was actually the hired hand for our friend’s farm. She was a veterinary student at the nearby university and took care of the horses and goats. She was also a Civil War reenactor, so she had access to period clothing that she had modified in order to pull her head into the overcoat and still see where she was going. And, obviously, she was also the coolest person in the world to a bunch of 8-year old boys. The Cub Scout Troop didn’t last very much longer before it broke up, but I guarantee none of us will ever forget that amazing Halloween party.
And now, let’s get to the record. Walt Disney Presents The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was released in 1965.
The A side is the Headless Horseman story, while the B side is the story of Rip Van Winkle, also by Washington Irving. While the original film narrator was Bing Crosby, for the record, Crosby was replaced by Billy Bletcher, who is best known for playing the villain Pete in many of the early Mickey Mouse shorts. The album was re-released in 1971 with a new cover, but the same stories, which is the copy I think I have.
I say that with uncertainty because I found my copy of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow inside the same sleeve as Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House that I featured on the last episode. I bought my copy at a thrift store and apparently the store didn’t realize there was a second record inside. I didn’t either until I got it home.
If you’d like to listen to this record, it’s available as an episode of my kids’ record podcast, When You Hear This Sound!