Where Fiction Replaces Reality

In bid for tourism, a town votes to become Sleepy Hollow

On June 27, a white Chevrolet Lumina minivan was the last vehicle to roll off the line at General Motor's 72-year-old North Tarrytown Assembly Plant. The oldest GM plant in the nation closed that afternoon, leaving thousands here without jobs and marking the end of an era for a town whose life force, for most of this century, had been making cars.

GM's departure will leave a $1.2 million hole in the town's $6 million budget. Residents feared the loss of their principal employer would also leave North Tarrytown without an identity - or a future.

But on Tuesday, residents decided to turn their backs on that reality and cast a vote for a future based on fiction. By a 1,304-to-710 margin, they changed the town name from North Tarrytown to Sleepy Hollow.

Translation: Good-bye minivans, hello tourists.

The 8,000-person village of North Tarrytown is where Washington Irving set such famous fictional tales as "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." The still-standing Old Dutch Church was in Irving's 1819 tale of Ichabod Crane and his creepy encounters with the Headless Horseman, and for years many residents - especially newcomers - had considered themselves residents of Sleepy Hollow.

"This famous name will be a good thing for all of us," the village trustees said in a recent letter to the local newspaper, seeking voters' support for the referendum. "It's not just a name. It's our future."

After the polls closed Tuesday evening, William Lent, sexton of the 311-year-old church, climbed the belfry stairs and rang the church bells for 15 minutes as an applauding crowd gathered on the street.

On Wednesday, the village trustees met and made the conversion official.

A similar referendum failed eight years ago. But this time, more than 70 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. With GM part of its past, most folks in the newly dubbed village hope to transform Sleepy Hollow into a tourist destination, where people can visit the church, Irving's grave, and the growing number of commercial tributes to Irving's legends, such as the Horseman Diner and the Sleepy Hollow Bicycle Shop.

Some old-timers, however, are aghast. They consider it a pretentious gesture that will cost the town thousands of dollars to replace signs, repaint fire and police vehicles, and change all the official town documents.

"I feel disappointed. I don't think tourism is going to get us out of our troubles," says Theodore Hutchinson, a former school teacher and local historian who has lived in North Tarrytown for 50 years.

But proponents consider redesignating themselves the perfect response to the devastating blow of GM's departure.

"We're facing a 20-percent cut in our village's income. We have to create an alternative economy," says Chris Skelly, of the Sleepy Hollow Society, which has fought for 10 years to change the town's name.

"We are witnessing, with the departure of GM, the end of the industrial era for the village and the beginning of a new one. The benefit is having a name that has world-class recognition, versus a name that makes us the northern part of someplace else."

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