"Rip Van Winkle"
Rip and his companion had labored on in silence; for though the former marvelled greatly what could be the object of carrying a keg of liquor up this wild mountain, yet there was something strange and incomprehensible about the unknown, that inspired awe, and checked familiarity.
by Washington Irving
Illustrated by N.C. Wyeth
"On waking he found himself on the green knoll whence he had first
seen the old man of the glen
He looked round for his gun, but in place of the clean well-oiled
fowling-piece, he found an old firelock lying by him, the barrel
encrusted with rust, the lock falling off, and the stock
worm-eaten. He now suspected that the grave roysterers of the
mountains had put a trick upon him, and, having dosed him with
liquor, had robbed him of his gun. Wolf, too, had disappeared,
but he might have strayed away after a squirrel or partridge. He
whistled after him and shouted his name, but all in vain; the
echoes repeated his whistle and shout, but no dog was to be seen.
He determined to revisit the scene of the last evening's gambol,
and if he met with any of the party, to demand his dog and gun.
As he rose to walk, he found himself stiff in the joints, and
wanting in his usual activity. "These mountain beds do not agree
with me," thought Rip, "and if this frolic, should lay me up with
a fit of the rheumatism, I shall have a blessed time with Dame
Van Winkle." With some difficulty he got down into the glen: he
found the gully up which he and his companion had ascended the
preceding evening; but to his astonishment a mountain stream was
now foaming down it, leaping from rock to rock, and filling the
glen with babbling murmurs. He, however, made shift to scramble
up its sides, working his toilsome way through thickets of birch,
sassafras, and witch-hazel; and sometimes tripped up or entangled
by the wild grape vines that twisted their coils and tendrils
from tree to tree, and spread a kind of network in his path.
At length he reached to where the ravine had opened through the
cliffs to the amphitheatre; but no traces of such opening
remained. The rocks presented a high impenetrable wall, over
which the torrent came tumbling in a sheet of feathery foam, and
fell into a broad deep basin, black from the shadows of the
surrounding forest. Here, then, poor Rip was brought to a stand.
He again called and whistled after his dog; he was only answered
by the cawing of a flock of idle crows, sporting high in the air
about a dry tree that overhung a sunny precipice; and who, secure
in their elevation, seemed to look down and scoff at the poor
man's perplexities. What was to be done? The morning was passing
away, and Rip felt famished for want of his breakfast. He grieved
to give up his dog and gun; he dreaded to meet his wife; but it
would not do to starve among the mountains. He shook his head,
shouldered the rusty firelock, and, with a heart full of trouble
and anxiety, turned his steps homeward.
As he approached the village, he met a number of people, but none
whom he new, which somewhat surprised him, for he had thought
himself acquainted with every one in the country round. Their
dress, too, was of a different fashion from that to which he was
accustomed. They all stared at him with equal marks of surprise,
and whenever they cast eyes upon him, invariably stroked their
chins. The constant recurrence of this gesture, induced Rip,
involuntarily, to do, the same, when, to his astonishment, he
found his beard had grown a foot long!
He had now entered the skirts of the village. A troop of strange
children ran at his heels, hooting after him, and pointing at his
gray beard. The dogs, too, not one of which he recognized for an
old acquaintance, barked at him as he passed. The very village
was altered: it was larger and more populous. There were rows of
houses which he had never seen before, and those which had been
his familiar haunts had disappeared. Strange names were over the
doors--strange faces at the windows--everything was strange. His
mind now misgave him; he began to doubt whether both he and the
world around him were not bewitched. Surely this was his native
village, which he had left but a day before. There stood the
Kaatskill mountains--there ran the silver Hudson at a
distance--there was every hill and dale precisely as it had
always been--Rip was sorely perplexed--"That flagon last night,"
thought he, "has addled my poor head sadly!"
It was with some difficulty that he found the way to his own
house, which he approached with silent awe, expecting every
moment to hear the shrill voice of Dame Van Winkle. He found the
house gone to decay--the roof had fallen in, the windows
shattered, and the doors off the hinges. A half-starved dog, that
looked like Wolf, was skulking about it. Rip called him by name,
but the cur snarled, showed his teeth, and passed on. This was an
unkind cut indeed.--"My very dog," sighed poor Rip," has
He entered the house, which, to tell the truth, Dame Van Winkle
had always kept in neat order. It was empty, forlorn, and
apparently abandoned. This desolateness overcame all his
connubial fears--he called loudly for his wife and children--the
lonely chambers rang for a moment with his voice, and then all
again was silence.
"it was with some difficulty that he found the way to his own house,
which he approached with silent awe, expecting every moment
to hear the shrill voice of Dame Van Winkle."
He now hurried forth, and hastened to his old resort, the village
inn--but it too was gone. A large rickety wooden building stood
in its place, with great gaping windows, some of them broken, and
mended with old hats and petticoats, and over the door was
painted, "The Union Hotel, by Jonathan Doolittle." Instead of the
great tree that used to shelter the quiet little Dutch inn of
yore, there now was reared a tall naked pole, with something on
the top that looked like a red nightcap, and from it was
fluttering a flag, on which was a singular assemblage of stars
and stripes--all this was strange and incomprehensible. He
recognized on the sign, however, the ruby face of King George,
under which he had smoked so many a peaceful pipe, but even this
was singularly metamorphosed. The red coat was changed for one of
blue and buff, a sword was held in the hand instead of a sceptre,
the head was decorated with a cocked hat, and underneath was
painted in large characters, "GENERAL WASHINGTON."
There was, as usual, a crowd of folk about the door, but none
that Rip recollected. The very character of the people seemed
changed. There was a busy, bustling, disputatious tone about it,
instead of the accustomed phlegm and drowsy tranquillity. He
looked in vain for the sage Nicholas Vedder, with his broad face,
double chin, and fair long pipe, uttering clouds of
tobacco-smoke, instead of idle speeches; or Van Bummel, the
schoolmaster, doling forth the contents of an ancient newspaper.
In place of these, a lean, bilious-looking fellow, with his
pockets full of handbills, was haranguing, vehemently about
rights of citizens-elections--members of
Congress--liberty--Bunker's hill--heroes of seventy-six-and other
words, which were a perfect Babylonish jargon to the bewildered
The appearance of Rip, with his long, grizzled beard, his rusty
fowling-piece, his uncouth dress, and the army of women and
children at his heels, soon attracted the attention of the tavern
politicians. They crowded round him, eying him from head to foot,
with great curiosity. The orator bustled up to him, and, drawing
him partly aside, inquired, "on which side he voted?" Rip stared
in vacant stupidity. Another short but busy little fellow pulled
him by the arm, and rising on tiptoe, inquired in his ear,
"whether he was Federal or Democrat." Rip was equally at a loss
to comprehend the question; when a knowing, self-important old
gentleman, in a sharp cocked hat, made his way through the crowd,
putting them to the right and left with his elbows as he passed,
and planting himself before Van Winkle, with one arm akimbo, the
other resting on his cane, his keen eyes and sharp hat
penetrating, as it were, into his very soul, demanded in an
austere tone, "What brought him to the election with a gun on his
shoulder, and a mob at his heels; and whether he meant to breed a
riot in the village?"
"Alas! gentlemen," cried Rip, somewhat dismayed, "I am a poor,
quiet man, a native of the place, and a loyal subject of the
King, God bless him!
Here a general shout burst from the bystanders-"a tory! a tory! a
spy! a refugee! hustle him! away with him!" It was with great
difficulty that the self-important man in the cocked hat restored
order; and having assumed a tenfold austerity of brow, demanded
again of the unknown culprit, what he came there for, and whom he
was seeking. The poor man humbly assured him that he meant no
harm, but merely came there in search of some of his neighbors,
who used to keep about the tavern.
"Well--who are they?--name them."
Rip bethought himself a moment, and inquired, Where's Nicholas
There was a silence for a little while, when an old man replied,
in a thin, piping voice, "Nicholas Vedder? why, be is dead and
gone these eighteen years! There was a wooden tombstone in the
churchyard that used to tell all about him, but that's rotten and
"Where's Brom Dutcher?"
"Oh, he went off to the army in the beginning of the war; some
say he was killed at the storming of Stony-Point--others say he
was drowned in a squall at the foot of Antony's Nose. I don't
know --he never came back again."
"Where's Van Bummel, the schoolmaster?"
"He went off to the wars, too; was a great militia general, and
is now in Congress."
Rip's heart died away, at hearing of these sad changes in his
home and friends, and finding himself thus alone in the world.
Every answer puzzled him too, by treating of such enormous lapses
of time, and of matters which he could not understand:
war--Congress-Stony-Point;--he had no courage to ask after any
more friends, but cried out in despair, "Does nobody here know
Rip Van Winkle?"
"Oh, Rip Van Winkle!" exclaimed two or three. "Oh, to be sure!
that's Rip Van Winkle yonder, leaning against the tree."
Rip looked, and beheld a precise counterpart of himself as he
went up the mountain; apparently as lazy, and certainly as
ragged. The poor fellow was now completely confounded. He doubted
his own identity, and whether he was himself or another man. In
the midst of his bewilderment, the man in the cocked hat demanded
who he was, and what was his name?
"God knows!" exclaimed he at his wit's end; "I'm not myself--I'm
somebody else--that's me yonder-no--that's somebody else, got
into my shoes--I was myself last night, but I fell asleep on the
mountain, and they've changed my gun, and everything's changed,
and I'm changed, and I can't tell what's my name, or who I am!"
The by-standers began now to look at each other, nod, wink
significantly, and tap their fingers against their foreheads.
There was a whisper, also, about securing the gun, and keeping
the old fellow from doing mischief; at the very suggestion of
which, the self-important man with the cocked hat retired with
some precipitation. At this critical moment a fresh, comely woman
pressed through the throng to get a peep at the gray-bearded man.
She had a chubby child in her arms, which, frightened at his
looks, began to cry. "Hush, Rip," cried she, "hush, you little
fool; the old man won't hurt you." The name of the child, the air
of the mother, the tone of her voice, all awakened a train of
recollections in his mind.
"What is your name, my good woman?" asked he.
"And your father's name?"
"Ah, poor man, Rip Van Winkle was his name, but it's twenty years
since he went away from home with his gun, and never has been
heard of since,--his dog came home without him; but whether he
shot himself, or was carried away by the Indians, nobody can
tell. I was then but a little girl."
Rip had but one more question to ask; but he put it with a
"Where's your mother?"
Oh, she too had died but a short time since; she broke a
blood-vessel in a fit of passion at a New-England pedler.
There was a drop of comfort, at least, in this intelligence. The
honest man could contain himself no longer. He caught his
daughter and her child in his arms. "I am your father!" cried
he-"Young Rip Van Winkle once-old Rip Van Winkle now--Does nobody
know poor Rip Van Winkle!"
All stood amazed, until an old woman, tottering out from among
the crowd, put her hand to her brow, and peering under it in his
face for a moment exclaimed, "sure enough! it is Rip Van
Winkle--it is himself. Welcome home again, old neighbor. Why,
where have you been these twenty long years?"
Rip's story was soon told, for the whole twenty years had been to
him but as one night. The neighbors stared when they heard it;
some were seen to wink at each other, and put their tongues in
their cheeks; and the self-important man in the cocked hat, who,
when the alarm was over, had returned to the field, screwed down
the corners of his mouth, and shook his head--upon which there
was a general shaking of the head throughout the assemblage.
It was determined, however, to take the opinion of old Peter
Vanderdonk, who was seen slowly advancing up the road. He was a
descendant of the historian of that name, who wrote one of the
earliest accounts of the province. Peter was the most ancient
inhabitant of the village, and well versed in all the wonderful
events and traditions of the neighborhood. He recollected Rip at
once, and corroborated his story in the most satisfactory manner.
He assured the company that it was a fact, handed down from his
ancestor, the historian, that the Kaatskill mountains had always
been haunted by strange beings. That it was affirmed that the
great Hendrick Hudson, the first discoverer of the river and
country, kept a kind of vigil there every twenty years, with his
crew of the Half-moon; being permitted in this way to revisit the
scenes of his enterprise, and keep a guardian eye upon the river
and the great city called by his name. That his father had once
seen them in their old Dutch dresses playing at ninepins in the
hollow of the mountain; and that he himself had heard, one summer
afternoon, the sound of their balls, like distant peals of
To make a long story short, the company broke up, and returned to
the more important concerns of the election. Rip's daughter took
him home to live with her; she had a snug, well-furnished house,
and a stout cheery farmer for a husband, whom Rip recollected for
one of the urchins that used to climb upon his back. As to Rip's
son and heir, who was the ditto of himself, seen leaning against
the tree, he was employed to work on the farm; but evinced an
hereditary disposition to attend to any thing else but his
Rip now resumed his old walks and habits; he soon found many of
his former cronies, though all rather the worse for the wear and
tear of time; and preferred making friends among the rising
generation, with whom be soon grew into great favor.
Having nothing to do at home, and being arrived at that happy age
when a man can be idle with impunity, he took his place once more
on the bench, at the inn door, and was reverenced as one of the
patriarchs of the village, and a chronicle of the old times
"before the war." It was some time before he could get into the
regular track of gossip, or could be made to comprehend the
strange events that had taken place during his torpor. How that
there had been a revolutionary war--that the country had thrown
off the yoke of old England--and that, instead of being a subject
to his Majesty George the Third, he was now a free citizen of the
United States. Rip, in fact, was no politician; the changes of
states and empires made but little impression on him; but there
was one species of despotism under which he had long groaned, and
that was--petticoat government. Happily, that was at an end; he
had got his neck out of the yoke of matrimony, and could go in
and out whenever he pleased, without dreading the tyranny of Dame
Van Winkle. Whenever her name was mentioned, however, he shook
his head, shrugged his shoulders, and cast up his eyes; which
might pass either for an expression of resignation to his fate,
or joy at his deliverance.
"...and perferred making friends amoung the rising generation
with whom he grew into great favor"
He used to tell his story to every stranger that arrived at Mr.
Doolittle's hotel. He was observed, at first, to vary on some
points every time he told it, which was, doubtless, owing to his
having so recently awaked. It at last settled down precisely to
the tale I have related, and not a man, woman, or child in the
neighborhood, but knew it by heart. Some always pretended to
doubt the reality of it, and insisted that Rip had been out of
his head, and that this was one point on which he always remained
flighty. The old Dutch inhabitants, however, almost universally
gave it full credit. Even to this day, they never hear a
thunder-storm of a summer afternoon about the Kaatskill, but they
say Hendrick Hudson and his crew are at their game of ninepins;
and it is a common wish of all henpecked husbands in the
neighborhood, when life hangs heavy on their hands, that they
might have a quieting draught out of Rip Van Winkle's flagon.
The foregoing tale, one would suspect, had been suggested to Mr.
Knickerbocker by a little German superstition about the Emperor
Frederick der Rothbart and the Kypphauser mountain; the subjoined
note, however, which had appended to the tale, shows that it is
an absolute fact, narrated with his usual fidelity:
"The story of Rip Van Winkle may seem incredible to many, but
nevertheless I give it my full belief, for I know the vicinity of
our old Dutch settlements to have been very subject to marvellous
events and appearances. Indeed, I have heard many stranger
stories than this, in the villages along the Hudson; all of which
were too well authenticated to admit of a doubt. I have even
talked with Rip Van Winkle myself, who, when last I saw him, was
a very venerable old man, and so perfectly rational and
consistent on every other point, that I think no conscientious
person could refuse to take this into the bargain; nay, I have
seen a certificate on the subject taken before a country justice,
and signed with cross, in the justice's own handwriting. The
story, therefore, is beyond the possibility of doubt.
The following are travelling notes from a memorandum-book of Mr.
The Kaatsberg or Catskill mountains have always been a region
full of fable. The Indians considered them the abode of spirits,
who influenced the weather, spreading sunshine or clouds over the
landscape, and sending good or bad hunting seasons. They were
ruled by an old squaw spirit, said to be their mother. She dwelt
on the highest peak of the Catskills, and had charge of the doors
of day and night to open and shut them at the proper hour. She
hung up the new moons in the skies, and cut up the old ones into
stars. In times of drought, if properly propitiated, she would
spin light summer clouds out of cobwebs and morning dew, and send
them off from the crest of the mountain, flake after flake, like
flakes of carded cotton, to float in the air; until, dissolved by
the heat of the sun, they would fall in gentle showers, causing
the grass to spring, the fruits to ripen, and the corn to grow an
inch an hour. If displeased, however, she would brew up clouds
black as ink, sitting in the midst of them like a bottle-bellied
spider in the midst of its web; and when these clouds broke, woe
betide the valleys!
In old times, say the Indian traditions, there was a kind of
Manitou or Spirit, who kept about the wildest recesses of the
Catskill mountains, and took a mischievous pleasure in wreaking
all kind of evils and vexations upon the red men. Sometimes he
would assume the form of a bear, a panther, or a deer, lead the
bewildered hunter a weary chase through tangled forests and among
ragged rocks, and then spring off with a loud ho! ho! leaving him
aghast on the brink of a beetling precipice or raging torrent.
The favorite abode of this Manitou is still shown. It is a rock
or cliff on the loneliest port of the mountains, and, from the
flowering vines which clamber about it, and the wild flowers
which abound in its neighborhood, is known by the name of the
Garden Rock. Near the foot of it is a small lake, the haunt of
the solitary bittern, with water-snakes basking in the sun on the
leaves of the pond-lilies which lie on the surface. This place
was held in great awe by the Indians, insomuch that the boldest
hunter would not pursue his game within its precincts. Once upon
a time, however, a hunter who had lost his way penetrated to the
Garden Rock, where he beheld a number of gourds placed in the
crotches of trees. One of these he seized and made off with it,
but in the hurry of his retreat he let it fall among the rocks,
when a great stream gushed forth, which washed him away and swept
him down precipices, where he was dished to pieces, and the
stream made its way to the Hudson, and continues to flow to the
present day, being the identical stream known by the name of the