There is a centurial mystery imbedded in the lore of the area, beyond the deep recess of the shadowy cove of the Hudson Valley, near the spacious opening to the Catskill Mountains. It is where the ceaseless apparitions of once Dutch settlers haunt the eerie dale of Tarry Town and are called the Knickerbockers. The veracious origin of this legend is found in the countless denizens, who have sworn to have seen and encountered these spine-tingling spooks of the fret and scare at every All Hallows’ Eve. At the rolling hills overlooking the Hudson River, by the towns of Irvington and Sleepy Hollow, the transient footfalls of the nocturnal Knickerbockers are heard roaming the cemeteries, and past the Tappan Zee Bridge that crosses that river at Tarry Town.
I had recently moved to the broad valley, from the New England area, where I was originally. As for my name and surname, I shall only concede this information, for the essential relevance of this account. I was born Bartholomew Van Halen, son of a reputable merchant and worthy descendant of the former Dutch colonists of New Netherland. The encounter I had in person with the Knickerbockers had left such an indelible impress in my mind that I fear the madness of the approaching hour of the eve to All Hallows’ Day every year.
I remember quite clearly it was the autumnal part of the year 1839, when I arrived at last in horseback, within the late afternoon at Tarry Town from the adjoining Sleepy Hollow. I had been offered an enticing proposition, for a property that had belonged to my uncle the late Kasper Van Halen, before his inopportune death. According to the tidings of this proffer, the property was a solitary and abandoned Gothic mansion that had pertained to my uncle, who was a prominent nobleman of the New York region. I was informed that he had requested my involvement in the possible occupation of this property. Thus, I was entrusted as a member of the family to meet a certain representative of my uncle, by the name of Mr. Dirk Van Amstel upon my arrival. I had followed the path of my beloved father and became a successful merchant in the New York area; but I was always inclined for a boon of a profitable enterprise.
Once I located the mansion after arriving into Tarry Town before the evening, I passed the verdant linden trees and reached the distinctive Van Halen Estate. The impressive home was close to the edge of the flowing Hudson River, and the first view I had of the limestone house was the front façade of its Gothic composition. The two-story mansion had a mysterious tower above that overshadowed the lower story of the edifice below. I was met at the front lawn by Mr. Van Amstel, who had been waiting for my arrival. We courteously shared greetings, and after the formalities exchanged, we entered the home. Inside I saw the contiguous hallways, the small windows sharply arched, and the ceilings that were peaked and vaulted.
However, there was the tangible effect of a gloomy, somber, and queer perception of abject ruin that was exceedingly noticeable. The large, double-height gallery provided a contrast of light and space, but it was then at that moment dull and drear. I had fancied in my mind the original aspect of the architectural interior of the mansion, with all its splendid attachments, and there prevailed around the home, this familiar darkled murk that was undesirable in nature. I had not expected the mansion to be in such a disheveled and unwelcoming manner upon my arrival, but I would be explained by Mr. Van Amstel the reason for this unfortunate representation. In the poignant words of Mr. Van Amstel, the house that was built in the architecture represented was due to the Gothic appeal of a house my uncle had seen in Europe, during a prior visit. But the house had begun the rapid process of deterioration. There was a visible singularity of the contrast seen in the architecture chosen that had distinguished the mansion, with the older stone or brick houses of the villagers, and their tenant farmhouses. I perceived a mysterious occurrence had transpired within the estate, but I was not certain in my presupposition.
Mr. Van Amstel was extremely vague in his disclosure of the details of the death of my uncle. However, I did not wish to impose my curiosity on his deferential disposition. Therefore, I merely kept my inquiry to myself and concentrated instead on the pertinence of the transaction that had brought me to the estate, in the first place. I was never a man to acknowledge so overtly my shortcomings, but I was not prepared to accept nothing more than the avid satisfaction of a plausible profit. There was no actual mention or stipulation of a will signed of any prohibited restoration, or change of the house. I had been in the house only for an hour in duration, but sufficiently enough to know that the restoration was necessarily the main function of the initial task I would have to undertake, after the purchase of the Gothic mansion. I had confirmed my genuine interest in the property, and it was agreed that in the morning, the deed would be signed and finalized. Mr. Van Amstel would receive an especial emolument, for his conscientious effort.
There was one thing that I did not take to full consideration before my trip, and that was the terrible condition the house inside had resulted, since the very inauspicious death of my uncle. I had assumed that his life was normal, and that the house would be in excellent condition upon my immediate arrival. This sudden view of the house had caused me to question, the peculiarity of this unexpected bewilderment and irregularity. I had no other option at the time, but to stay the night at the house and within the grounds of the estate. The accommodation was for the sake of the deed the following morning. Naturally, since my stay would be only a night, until my return to Tarry Town, there were no present servants to be needed, with the exception of a maidservant. Her name was Camila and she would be there, until the evening. The challenge was to survive the night in the lorn and dusty mansion alone, with just the basic necessities afforded.
Once Mr. Van Amstel had departed, I took the occasion to walk around the rest of the home observing the north library, the dining room fireplace, and the colorful blooms of the garden outside, through the window inquisitively. Camila was busy tending to the house duties. My recollection of my late uncle was scarcely a constructed memory, since I met him only once, and knew almost entirely nothing of his personal life, except that we shared the Van Halen name and noble lineage. Our notable ancestry had originated from the first Van Halen colonist, Baron Diederick Van Halen, who mysteriously perished within the year of 1674, in the war against the British. The gossiping villagers bespoke that he had perished whilom, in the vast wilderness of the Hudson Valley. Ultimately, there was no veritable verification of that account, but the fact that he vanished, without any viable notice of his whereabouts was indeed strange.
At the library, there were numerous books of interest that had fascinated my intrigue, and one theme in particular that was the most revealing. There were books that contained several volumes, on the subject of the ancestral patronage and history of the Dutch colonists, within these parts of New York. I had cleaned and swiped off the particles of dust that were on the front covers of the books, and perused the stimulating pages of their lore that was preserved, with a meticulous solicitude. I had heard stories from my father as a child of such existing evidence about our historical descendants, but I did not imagine to what degree was its effect and totality. The measure of its importance was not unveiled in its contents, until I started to read profoundly, about the lengthy details of the original establishments of the settlements and their evolution.
I was cognizant to a certain degree of some of this valid information, but there were so many questions about the insoluble mystery of the Dutch settlers, who perished in the Hudson Valley over two centuries ago. Included in these vanished settlers were my proud ancestors the Van Halens, whose prodigious name was well established in the area. There was another book in the library of the house that mentioned pagan witchcraft, and I knew of various stories of witchcraft practiced, by the settlers. What I did not know was the fact that they were accused of the hidden practice of blasphemous witchcraft, and were put on trials and found guilty. The abominable truth that they were hanged had given me the conclusion that one of these aforementioned settlers was perchance my ancestor. Within the information I had read, there was a reference in the years that elapsed of an anonymous connotation of legendary ghostly apparitions of All Hallows' Eve that were known in the valley as the 'Knikkerbakkers', a Dutch word that was anglicized the 'Knickerbockers'.
As I sat in an armchair in the library, I heard an unusual noise of an unidentifiable origin that reached the library. In the beginning, I had dismissed the noise as the casual bustle of the wind outside, but then the birr had increased gradually. Therewith, I rose to my feet to investigate, when I had perceived the sudden creak and strain of a door opened. It was a door from one of the adjacent chambers of the house, and the obscure shade of the darkness limited my visibility to a great extent. I thought perhaps it was Camila, but I was not certain. There were oil lamps hanging in the corridors, and candles in the rooms, but the gloom that surrounded the east and west wings on the second story was encompassing and noticeably opaque. The discernible light that was available was due to the remaining light of day that was becoming evening, as the fading shine of the sunset reflected.
The undeniable signs of an imminent storm had materialized in the absolute form of thunder and lightning that had accompanied the rain that would drop heavy puddles of water, upon the lawn and surface of the shutters of the windows, as they flapped side to side with the wind that whistled so abruptly. Then as I had attempted to close the shutters, I descried for a brief moment in time, the ambiguous appearance of a specter outside the house. I was startled by the indefinite image, and as I approached the window, the image had swiftly disappeared. Where? I had no serious inkling of knowing the answer to that puzzling question. No, it could not have been a wandering ghost I thought, and the truth was I was uncertain of what I had seen. Was it an actual ghost, as many people believe nowadays in these parts of the country?
"Sir, it is getting late, and I must be on my way now!" Said the maidservant, who stood directly behind me.
"By Jove! You startled me, Camila!"
"Pardon me sir, but I did not intend to frighten you!"
"That is all right, and you may leave. Careful on the road, for the storm is approaching!"
"Do not worry sir, for my home is not that far off from the main road!"
Soon, my horrendous episodes with the deceased tenants of the estate would become a continual nightmare that would last the entire night, until the brink of dawn. I had left the room where the specter was seen, and headed toward the main corridor to the staircase upstairs, when there in front of me stood the fainting image of a haunting ghost in transparency. It then emerged from the opaqueness of the corridor and approached me slowly.
"Who goes there"? I asked.
As it did, I would be aghast, with this surreal phantasm of a definite singularity that manifested unannouncedly. It had appeared to be the guise of my forefather Diederick Van Halen, the first Van Halen of New Holland. This I recognized from the several paintings I had seen of him previously, and because of the conspicuous clothing he was wearing that denoted the 17th century attire. I had remained still as a keen observer and waited for a response.
"Are you Diederick Van Halen, my forefather?" I had queried the ghost.
We stared eye to eye, before he uttered in a disturbing tone of voice. "Yes, I am Diederick Van Halen!"
"What do you seek?" I asked the spook.
"What I seek is not of grave importance, but the warning I deliver, you must know," he acknowledged.
"And what have you come to warn me?" I insisted.
"Beware!" He muttered.
"Beware' of whom?" I asked bemusedly.
"Beware of the Knickerbockers—for it is the night of All Hallows' Eve!"
He declared explicitly. Clearly, I was agog to comprehend the meaning of this stern warning. "Tell me ghost, who are the Knickerbockers? Where are they?"
I persisted in my intrigue to know. However, I would not receive my answer. While I waited anxiously, the phantasm disappeared into the incomparable veil of the gloomy darkness. I followed the spook to the end of the corridor, till I noticed the hasty disappearance. I was obfuscated by the unnatural occurrence of the solivagant ghost that I failed to make sense of the encounter, through my acute perception. I recalled the ominous words of the ghost of Diederick Van Halen, and speculated on what exactly was he referring to. I could not surmise a sustainable inference, from the grim warning given. I was perplexed and too wearisome from the trip to make an evening jaunt into the village or the mouth of the valley.
Thereafter, I had returned to the library to study more, anent the nature of the inexplicable mystery of the pronounced Knickerbockers, but I was not mindful of the damnable burden that my surname bore. The ancient secrets of the Van Halens were attached to the unknown and unexplored history of my Dutch lineage. What I did not presumed before was to what extent had it become a nameable malediction? I had suspected that the plausibility of that misfortune was evolving as a credible suspicion. Another thing that was unclear to my understanding was the mention of the Knickerbockers, to the specific period of All Hallows' Eve.
It seemed that this traditional belief was not necessarily Celtic in its familiar observance, and some had suggested that it was linked to the Weckquaesgeek tribe of Indians. Irrespective of the truth of the original story, the local inhabitants of the area strongly believed in the Knickerbockers, and retained their obstinate ways that they would not relinquish. Hitherto, I sought to discover the actuality of the so-called Knickerbockers rising from the dead on All Hallows' Eve.
As children we are prevalent to the susceptibility of the fragile state of the mind to perceive, such unexplained phenomena in life that are constant riddles unsolved and unique. These unbroken superstitions are presumed to be forgotten when we reach adulthood, but there are some mysteries that bound us to our past unknowingly. The answers to these concealing mysteries are to be found in the unfolding events that occur, amid the praeternatural circumstances.
Within the Hudson Valley was a past that was not adscititious to the native history that had remained undiscovered, and I would quickly be apprised of its immediate connection, as I had read more apparent information on the history of the valley. I had discovered the fascinating entries of a journal of my late uncle Kasper Van Halen was writing. There was a stunning revelation that had described antecedent encounters with the Knickerbockers ere. In all my years as a scion of the Van Halens, I had not realized the consequential impact this unparalleled relevance would signify not only to the region, but as well to my honorable strain. Somehow the estate and my family were associated to an attributive secret that few of the Van Halens were informed of its existential nature. This association was assumed with empirical sense, by my deceased uncle to be of an unnatural cause and consequence.
I hearkened to the bracing sounds of the tempest that intensified by the minute, and brought the eeriness of the night into full effect. What I could not efface in my mind in a facile manner was the illutible inference to the Knickerbockers and the particular attachment to the 31st of October. Perhaps I was overreacting with my unsettling anxiety, and there was a reasonable explanation to the uninhibited story that could be expounded on the basis of facts and not unreliable conjectures intuited. The forcible winds began to pound heavily upon the wooden shutters that were shut completely, while I had continued reading the riveting entries of the journal. The vibrant sound of a stranger I heard then as the night had arrived with unbidden guests to attend, with the exception that these guests were not invited and expected at all. Where did the unusual noise originate? It appeared to be coming directly, from the tower above. I rose up to my feet promptly and investigated the undetermined noise.
The darkness that had been engulfing the house before had become more palpable and intense, within the unilluminated portions of the interior of the house. It was the howling wind that was deceiving me I thought, but how could I rationalize the obvious appearance of the ghost of Diederick Van Halen, who was present? Was he some kind of a distorted illusion that I mistook with an apprehensive acknowledgement? Or was he an actual representation of a dead man, who had gone to the netherworld of pitiable and tormented souls, but returned to haunt me?
Therefore, I proceeded with cautionary discretion, as I pondered what was prepared for me up in the tower. I had reached the edge of the staircase that led to the lone drab tower, and the sound then augmented for some unapparent reason, within the creepy sequence that had progressed. Verily, for a brief moment I contemplated leaving the house and estate, and returning to Sleepy Hollow, but it was too late already, and the storm outside was an unmissable determent. I listened to the birr of the tempest resound with the powerful levin that extended the echoic reverberations to the hollow walls of the house that were reanimated. It was only a matter of time, before the oil lamps in the corridors along with the candles would succumb, to the effects of the storm.
I gradually climbed up the rickety staircase, one step at a time with my perceptive ears listening to every sound made, until I reached the top story, where the elevated tower was located at. Even though there was an uneasiness that was consuming my nerves, I was absolutely committed to knowing what exactly was in that eldritch tower. Once I had arrived at the tower, there was a mahogany door that had a rusty steel latch across it that impeded its entrance. It must be a secretive place of the house that my uncle did not want any intrusion I surmised.
However, the latch could be opened, and thus, I carefully lifted the latch and pushed the door, as it creaked wide open. So nervous was I that my heart beat faster than before, and my pulse began to increase by the second. I thought only of what was behind the singular door of the tower. When the door had finally opened, what I saw was the most gruesome sight of death ever. There were innumerable bones and skulls that were scattered in a mountain heap of death everywhere, and there in the farthest corner of the tower room laid the cadaver of my dearest uncle Kasper Van Halen, where he was stiff and stone dead. Yes, I repeat stone dead!
I could not comprehend the unfathomable image of such ghastliness. The putrid stench of death permeated the air, and I was horripilated by the insufferable discovery. There was another horrid reminder of the disturbing incident, and that was a furnace that contained the charnel remains of dead individuals. This stirring development was naturally something that I had not foreseen in my unimaginable consideration before my trip to the estate. I ran out of the tower room and ran down the staircase back to the corridor below, where I then headed toward the dining hall.
But as I arrived at the dining hall, the giant clock in the corridor had struck, and it was then 10 o’clock in the night. I had in accordance to the direful warning given to me by Diederick Van Halen, just two hours before the arrival of the Knickerbockers. I was not certain of what that meant, and since I had not seen them, how would I be ready to confront supernatural beings that were not human in composition? I had to restrain my impulse for trepidation, and concentrate on attempting to understand, a muddling history that was of the utmost significance. It was unbelievable to imagine not only finding upstairs in the tower room the actual cadaver of my deceased uncle, but as well, the abundant bones and skulls that belonged to people.
The question to this undisclosed predicament was to whom? Were they the fragmented bones and skulls of the villagers of Tarry Town or did they belong to others, who were outsiders? Good God it was a living nightmare, and one that was only just beginning I felt. In the dining hall I found a solitary chair to sit, and there I pondered incessantly it seemed, the notion of what to do next. The storm did not subside, and neither did the bizarre occurrences around me. I took a deep breath, before I mused on the ordeal I was facing. Thus, I forsook for the time being any interest in the purchase of the house, and instead focused on the inducement that was undoubtedly, behind all of these prevailing abnormalities.
More time had elapsed, and it was then 12 o’clock midnight, the dreadful hour of the Knickerbockers. My angst had been converted, into a profound perspiration that was running down my face and covering my shirt completely. I felt confined within the horrendous walls that were listening to my every breath, and were closing I sensed. The following sequence of events I attest was real, and if you dare to doubt the validity of my lucid words, then I shall not attempt to dissuade your incredulity, with a frivolous argument. I was not mad I tell you, when all this happened I confess; although I admit with a frank admission that my mental faculties were possibly not all intact. But do not doubt the version of events that transpired, since there is more of the story that you have not read yet.
As the hour of midnight had arrived as was mentioned, the mesonoxian wights known as the Knickerbockers had risen from their dormant tombs and slumber. The hour when the Hudson Valley came alive and the benighted All Hallows' Eve began. I was in the dining hall still, when my first encounter with the Knickerbockers occurred. The lightning of the storm had ceased for approximately five minutes or so, as absolute silence was heard, except the tick-tock of the giant clock in the corridor. I began to listen to the ticking, until I could bear no more. I screamed out loud—for the silence was intolerable and unyielding it seemed.
Afterward, the shutters of the chambers were opened, with the violent wind that brought the harrowing Knickerbockers to the estate and house. The windows were shattered into pieces, and I rose up to my feet and headed to the front door. The Knickerbockers had begun to penetrate, through the exterior of the statuminated walls. The rooms and chandeliers shook, as I ran speedily outside of the house. The rain was coming down upon my face, and the thunder was louder and louder. I looked back not once, as I felt their presence behind me in pursuit. I took the straps and fittings of my horse and rode tantivy, toward the road that past the Tappan Zee Bridge crossing, the river at the village.
However, when I had galloped to the bridge, I was met by the Knickerbockers, whose horrid appearances were that of the decaying guises of a morbid constitution. Their dark eyes of fear and their prodigious mouths of sharpened teeth had frightened me, with the Cimmerian shade of their terror. My skittish horse had halted forthwith and nearly threw me off, but I resisted, and I took another passage that led to Irvington. The towering Catskill Mountains were in the background as my horse sped through the viscous trees of the Hudson Valley. The Knickerbockers were all around me within the vicinity, and they were following me, and heading to the other places.
The pouring rain had continued, and it soon would hinder me from crossing the Hudson River. There was no manner feasible that would allow me to reach Irvington to warn the residents with time. But I could return and warn those in Tarry Town and Sleepy Hollow. I do not with hauteur acknowledge what I did next, as an extreme act of valor, but know that the only hero in this account was not I. Quickly, I had returned to Tarry Town to warn the residents, in particular Camila. The Knickerbockers had begun to terrorize the villagers, and it seemed my attempt was to be in vain. I had insisted in my endeavor to warn and assist them in driving away the Knickerbockers.
When I had reached the market square, there was total pandemonium everywhere, as the Knickerbockers had scared into a frenzy the fearful villagers. They had hastened into their farms, while others in the cellars, but the dauntless Knickerbockers kept coming, and they kept on spooking the villagers. The poor helpless children had quivered, with the great horror of the Knickerbockers. The blood-curdling screams of the madness appeared to not end, as the night progressed unstoppably. I had located Camila, in the corner of a street nearby. Immediately, I took her to the house to escape the Knickerbockers.
For endless hours they harassed and intimidated the petrified residents of Tarry Town, Irvington and Sleepy Hollow, until it all abated instantly at dawn, when I was inside the house, unable to thwart the hair-raising rampage of the Knickerbockers. The clock of the corridor then struck seven o’clock, and the terror of the Knickerbockers came to an end, with the first gleam of dawn that repressed the horror of All Hallows’ Eve. Miraculously, we had survived the unspeakable night of the Knickerbockers, and in the following morning at around eight o’clock Mr. Van Amstel had returned as it was agreed on the previous day. I heard a tapping on the front door, as my eyes were drained and my body within a lethargic stupor. I had not slept the entire night, but Camila was asleep in one of the beds of the lower chamber. When I had opened the door, I saw Mr. Van Amstel standing, with a smile in his salutational expression.
"Good morning sir, I hope that your sleep in the mansion was pleasant if not satisfactory", he said.
I looked at him with astonishment and disbelief. "What do you mean by that? Did you not see or feel the fiendish terror of last night?" I asked.
"What terror do you speak of sir?" He replied.
"The dreaded terror of the Knickerbockers!" I uttered.
"Oh I am afraid that I was in New York yesterday," he stated.
Was he in absolute denial, or had my mind been obsessed with the insanity of the house? I told him to go upstairs, and there in the tower, he would find the dead body of my beloved uncle Kasper Van Halen, along with the bones and skulls of the others. He had complied, and I escorted him to the tower room, where he opened the latch and the door, and there behind the door, the horrible image of death I had witnessed was present. Yes, it was all real! My unlucky uncle had died in that tower room, as did many others. The terrible secret of the Van Halen family was that the bones of the deceased Knickerbockers had been unearthed and kept in the tower. My uncle was not buried in the local cemetery, and a treasure trove was located in his coffin instead of his body. We had opened the coffin to find that remarkable discovery afterward. The house was built upon the ancient graveyard of the first Dutch settlers that were commonly known, as the Knickerbockers. Among them included was Diederick Van Halen, my legendary ancestor. Hence, you wonder if their ghosts did exist as you grue. Indeed, but only on All Hallows’ Eve did they rise from their tombs, whence they came and whither they go.