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Jim Logan: Sleepy Hollow Cemetery Man

How do they mow all that grass? How many bodies are buried in there? And other pressing questions answered by the Board member with deep roots in this cemetery.

Jim Logan, historian of the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery – since if you spend enough time in a cemetery, as he has, you become a historian – was gearing up for the “season” when I met with him in the summertime.

October of course is show time for the cemetery. Thousands pass through the impressive gates of our famous burying grounds. Thousands and thousands of living people.

By Logan's estimates:

“About three thousand people take our tours over course of our season, April through November, about two-thirds of those in the month of October. Many thousands more walk or drive our grounds during October visiting hours.”

Which are: daily, 8:30am to 4:30pm.

Try to jump the fence after hours and someone will call the cops.

This season the cemetery offers Halloween Photography workshops, Edgar Allen Poe readings (sorry, that’s over), daytime walking tours and, better, I would think, nighttime lantern tours. These range in themes from "Murder and Mayhem" (sorry, sold out) to “There Goes the Neighborhood” lead by historical society ladies entrenched in local lore by birthright.

All of this requires about 10 tour guides on rotation, often with three simultaneous tours happening. For all the options and up-to-date ticket info (again, these things sell out) visit their website at sleepyhollowcemetery.org.

You'll meet everyone here from Carnegie to Helmsley, but a popular tour stop (perhaps right up there with Irving’s grave) is Barnabas’ crypt from the Dark Shadows film made between here and Lyndhurst.

In real life this creepy room was once a “receiving hall” (and not the Dark Shadows location scouts' first choice!). Back when the ground was too frozen to bury a body in, you’d keep it here for a while. No need for that anymore…with technology. (Though many plots are tight or sloped, so when there’s no room for a backhoe, they do still dig by hand, Logan said).

Among these historical tour guides talking local legends, there’s Logan himself, whose father and grandfather both served on the Board as he does now. He finds himself “inadvertently working here full-time” after being laid off from his job in print production for the National Audubon Society in May.

Logan has deep roots here in the Tarrytowns (you can even see him alongside now-comedian Greg Fitzsimmons in this hilarious 70s fashion photo, i.e. basketball at the YMCA), attached to this article. Sorry Jim!

Logan shared the surprising news that he and his wife and daughter are moving from Tarrytown to…gasp…Irvington. But, he said, “don’t worry, we’ll get them to rename it South Tarrytown.”

Will he come back here when he’s dead? “If my family lets me, I’ve got a spot in the family plot.”

He narrated tales from all the gravesites of many people, some of them North Tarrytowners like the Beekmans, which of course is extremely fascinating, but I kept asking other sidetracking questions: How long does it take to mow the lawn here (and how?), who cares for the old graves of the long-dead?

How old is old? The Old Dutch Church and its burying ground weighs in at 325 years while the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery considers itself “the new kids on the block” at only 163 years.

Maybe for all the hustle and bustle of the season, there is one great relief: they can stop mowing that darn grass. Pretty much as soon it gets cut, you have to start again, Logan said, describing a series of cutting machines from large to small. First the large mowers come in with the 36” decks, then a hand mower where they don’t fit, then it’s down to weed-whacking around the stones. There are nine people employed here in the warmer months just to keep up the grounds, seven of them full-time.

“It’s not like a football field,” said Logan.

What about the upkeep on some of these long-dead families who may not have any visitors beside tourists? Used to be that people bought annual care on plots but many of these accounts have long ago lapsed. Maintenance fees are built into newer plots. By New York State law, a cemetery does not own its monuments, nor this old iron fencing we have here, but they do care for the grass and shrubs and such as best they can.

The cemetery is so popular – for living as well as the dead – is it going to reach capacity any time soon? The newish community masoleum holds 1,100, Logan said. But if you want a plot, they are here but “scattered throughout.” But with space running out in some years, Logan said, “incomes dries up” and they’ll have to tap into the cemetery’s endowment to keep up the place (it’s a not-for-profit). 

The cemetery has 150 burials per year, with 45,000 already housed here. The cost to lie here into eternity? “No more than any other cemetery,” said Logan, despite the fancy pedigree. It can cost $3,000 for a single grave, not including all the fixings. Price is based on square footage.

In the market? The plot where the Ramones once filmed their music video for Pet Semetery is still up for grabs. (A nice spot with a view of an oddly bumpy cross monument).

And since he’s an Audubon man, what about the wildlife? (Besides drunk teens). Logan’s seen: coyotes trotting across Broadway, a family of foxes raising three kids, turkey vulture, red tail hawk... And flora: there’s thyme serving as a great, fragrant ground cover in some older sections (that, thankfully, don’t require mowing).

The question of the season: has he seen any ghosts? “I myself have never seen anything,” Logan says diplomatically. “Some people get scared enough just being here.”

The question from last season: How did the Halloween-busting storm affecting them? Not a bit; it might have even helped as they were the only game going in town. “We had no power issues since it was a tour by lantern light,” Logan said. “And a lot of people were town with nothing else to do.”

Which is not going to be the case this year! There’s so much to do in the village for Halloween it might render a person headless, with more and more events (and visitors) each year as Sleepy Hollow seems to really grow into its name. The cemetery, as it has been for many decades and generations of Logans, is a classic you can’t miss.

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joy October 18, 2012 at 09:00 PM
The tours are great!
Krista Madsen October 18, 2012 at 09:03 PM
I'll have to another article on the tour he gave me, since there was SO MUCH to learn. We certainly house a lot of fascinating dead people!

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