SLEEPY HOLLOW, NY — On Halloween, storyteller Jonathan Kruk will perform “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” for the forty-eighth, forty-ninth and fiftieth times this month inside the candle-lit sanctuary of the 17th-century Old Dutch Church.
Dressed in a period costume, and accompanied by organist Jim Keyes, Kruk is kinetic as he acts out the Washington Irving story that made Sleepy Hollow famous. This year's performances, which were packed into 14 days, were all sold out.
2016 is the seventh straight year that the 60-year-old Kruk and 49-year-old Keyes collaborated on the "Legend." The duo also performed the story, for the first time, in another Halloween mecca — Salem, Massachusetts — for one night only.
For Kruk, who specializes in legends and lore of the Hudson Valley, and who wrote a book about that subject, Irving's “Legend” endures because “it offers a combination of things people crave. It’s got romance, horror and humor. Plus, of course, it has the iconic, indescribable Headless Horseman.”
The Headless Horseman is a ubiquitous presence in Sleepy Hollow, which was called North Tarrytown until 1996. His likeness decorates street signs and fire engines. Every October, one of his 21st-century doppelgangers appears during the Old Dutch Church Fest and Horseman’s Hollow. The latter attraction populates Philipsburg Manor, an 18th-century site, with a host of costumed characters.
Inside the church, Kruk’s voice and Keyes’ music boom off the walls and ceiling. In addition to the role of narrator, Kruk plays a multitude of personas, from Ichabod Crane to Katrina Van Tassel to Brom Van Brunt. His favorite part happens when he first describes the Horseman “relentlessly, inexorably scouring these roads on wings of wind, looking for his lost head.”
In December, Kruk and Keyes will team up for 12 performances of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” at the Reformed Church of the Tarrytowns. For Kruk, who has been a full-time storyteller since 1989, his repertoire includes a range of favorites, such the Norwegian fairytale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” and Aesop’s Fable “The Lion and the Mouse.” The “Legend,” however, is his signature story.
During the 50-performance marathon at the Old Dutch Church, Kruk admits “there are moments where I’m feeling a bit exhausted.” For energy, he keeps a bottle of Vitamin B12 tablets on hand. His audiences, however, provide the biggest boost.
“I just feel this sense of joy and responsibility when I see all of the faces,” he said. “They’re expectant, hopeful, wanting something authentic, and so I feel I’ve just got to deliver it.”
Tim Lamorte is an award-winning journalist who has spent almost two decades documenting life along the Hudson River.