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I was reading The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, (1820) by Washington Irving (1783-1859) which begins:

A pleasing land of drowsy head it was,

Of dreams that wave before the half-shut eye;

And of gay castles in the clouds that pass,

Forever flushing round a summer sky.

—Castle of Indolence.

A strange occurrence happened in my reading chair; a short way into the book I paused and sneezed and at that very moment in my peregrinations I considered the words Hans Van Ripper and that name’s possible association with the name Jack the Ripper. He, of course, is the infamous murderer of  prostitutes, working his evil deeds in the Whitechapel district of London in the fall of 1888. But when was this book published? It had to be earlier than 1859 for that was the year of Irving’s expiration, printed in the title page. It was also the birth year of my favorite candidate for the title of Jack the Ripper — Dr. Ignatius Arthur Conan Doyle. The Dutch name Hans is a variation on the English name John, and Jack is a popularization of the more formal name John; thus without too much interpretation Hans Van Ripper becomes Jack the Ripper. It’s a wild thought worthy of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmesian analysis.

The edition I was reading was the 1891 printing of the Best Fifty Books of the Greatest Authors condensed for busy people. This particular copy was from the University of Santa Clara, California, and had only been checked out three times since publication according to the date due card, so it was in in pristine condition. Apparently busy people were too busy to bother reading this condensation of this and other famous stories. A bit of checking found the original publication date of Irving’s story to be 1820. Therefore, this story was already half a century old when Doyle would first have read it as a teenager.

Was this book I had in my hand really a condensation? The text read well and there were no obvious lacunas. The obvious answer to that question required access to a full text copy, which fortunately was done rather quickly by my local librarian and spouse on her Kindle. She transfered and downloaded it onto my desktop computer, using her account, for better comparison. Using that method we were able to find some obvious gaps on the first page, so the story I had just read was in fact a condensation, and a full clean text was needed for any further research. Then the real power of the internet and modern technology asserted its benign head. After the download, the FIND command on “Ripper” discovered nine usages of that term in the complete text, whereas my clipped copy only had three. It is difficult to cut and paste from Kindle so we downloaded the complete text of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow from bartleby.com which can be Searched and Copied and Pasted. Furthermore, the online book text has numbered paragraphs for scholarly tagging. The paragraphs 36, 37, 45, 67, 69, 70, 72 mention Hans Van Ripper. They are quoted below for quick reference:

The gallant Ichabod now spent at least an extra half hour at his toilet, brushing and furbishing up his best, and indeed only suit of rusty black, and arranging his looks by a bit of broken looking-glass, that hung up in the schoolhouse. That he might make his appearance before his mistress in the true style of a cavalier, he borrowed a horse from the farmer with whom he was domiciliated, a choleric old Dutchman, of the name of Hans Van Ripper, and, thus gallantly mounted, issued forth, like a knight-errant in quest of adventures. But it is meet I should, in the true spirit of romantic story, give some account of the looks and equipments of my hero and his steed. The animal he bestrode was a broken-down plough-horse, that had outlived almost every thing but his viciousness. He was gaunt and shagged, with a ewe neck and a head like a hammer; his rusty mane and tail were tangled and knotted with burrs; one eye had lost its pupil, and was glaring and spectral; but the other had the gleam of a genuine devil in it. Still he must have had fire and mettle in his day, if we may judge from the name he bore of Gunpowder. He had, in fact, been a favorite steed of his master’s, the choleric Van Ripper, who was a furious rider, and had infused, very probably, some of his own spirit into the animal; for, old and broken-down as he looked, there was more of the lurking devil in him than in any young filly in the country.. 36;

Such was the appearance of Ichabod and his steed, as they shambled out of the gate of Hans Van Ripper, and it was altogether such an apparition as is seldom to be met with in broad daylight. 37;

Then, he thought, how soon he’d turn his back upon the old school-house; snap his fingers in the face of Hans Van Ripper, and every other niggardly patron, and kick any itinerant pedagogue out of doors that should dare to call him comrade! 45;

For a moment the terror of Hans Van Ripper’s wrath passed across his mind—for it was his Sunday saddle; but this was no time for petty fears; the goblin was hard on his haunches; 67;

Hans Van Ripper now began to feel some uneasiness about the fate of poor Ichabod, and his saddle. 69;

The brook was searched, but the body of the school-master was not to be discovered. Hans Van Ripper, as executor of his estate, examined the bundle which contained all his worldly effects. They consisted of two shirts and a half; two stocks for the neck; a pair or two of worsted stockings; an old pair of corduroy small-clothes; a rusty razor; 70;

These magic books and the poetic scrawls were forthwith consigned to the flames by Hans Van Ripper; who from that time forward determined to send his children no more to school; observing, that he never knew any good come of this same reading and writing. 70;

Ichabod Crane was still alive; that he had left the neighborhood, partly through fear of the goblin and Hans Van Ripper, and partly in mortification at having been suddenly dismissed by the heiress; that he had changed his quarters to a distant part of the country; 72;

The above selections are all of the references to “Jack the Ripper” in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Are there any possible links to the serial killer which a literary minded serial killer, which Jack obviously was, might reference? Perhaps I have a little too much power to see associations but — 1. there is the name Hans Van Ripper. 2. We do have the implied slashed throats to get a headless horseman. 3. There is a rusty razor. 4. There was more of the lurking devil in him than in any young filly in the country. 5. The word Devil was used by Doyle as a reference to himself occasionally. [Added 2012/03/07 6. Doyle’s autobiographical book Through the Magic Door,was about the magic of old books on his bookshelf. There, he mentions burning, not of books but of teachers, by the local Iroquois Indians here at this Hudson river location. Doyle’s only mention of Irving was “Conquest of Granada” on page 79.]

In my Jack the Ripper was Arthur Conan Doyle there is a more detailed linking of his name to the original Dear Boss letter which is signed Jack the Ripper. I reread this whole story with my eyes perked up for possible relevances to Doyle or Jack but other than the usage of the name and occasional Sherlock like observations like footprints of hard galloping horses, there didn’t seem to be anything.


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