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How does Sleepy Hollow celebrate Halloween?

Few American cities evoke Halloween's horrifying images as does the setting of Washington Irving's immortal work, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

The 1820 folktale of the Headless Horseman's frightening pursuit of Ichabod Crane has made the village "a mecca for folks who are into Halloween," said Rob Schweitzer of Historic Hudson Valley, a nonprofit organization that operates historic sites in the area.

"Certainly 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,' Washington Irving's classic Halloween story, put Sleepy Hollow on the map, and it's this iconic piece of literature that continues to resonate with folks," Schweitzer said.

Just in time for Halloween, the U.S. Census Bureau released its list of some other places on the map that might also conjure chilling scenes, including Scarville, Iowa (estimated population 71); Slaughter Beach, Del. (215); Tombstone, Ariz. (1,358) - and Sleepy Hollow, Ill. (3,339).

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While Irving set his story in the village neighboring his home in New York's Lower Hudson Valley 25 miles north of Manhattan, the village roughly 45 miles northwest of Chicago was founded by an Irving fan, according to Village President Stephan Pickett. It only incorporated into a village in 1958.

For more than 30 years, Pickett said, the village's Service Club has marked the holiday with an annual event, complete with a costume parade, a chili contest and, in a nod to its namesake, an appearance by the Headless Horseman.

After sunset, a rider mounts its steed and gallops around a bonfire between 10 to 15 feet in height and 25 to 35 feet in diameter, Pickett said.

"It's a bit of a trick getting a horse to ride around a burning bonfire," he said.

Pickett said he isn't the rider. Instead, event organizers work with a local stable to find someone up to the job.

"Horses and fire and smoke don't mix," said Pickett. "It's something that's best left to the professionals."

Besides featuring the annual performance of Irving's ghoulish character, Illinois also boasts being the nation's top pumpkin-producing state, growing an estimated 556.3 million pounds of pumpkins in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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USDA ranks New York fifth in U.S. producers of pumpkins, thousands of which are carved and put on display just outside of its Sleepy Hollow.

Historic Hudson Valley's Schweitzer said more than 5,000 pumpkins are carved into jack-o'-lanterns and displayed in creative ways at the nonprofit's The Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.

"It's not just single pumpkins," he said. "It's large displays that are made up of several hundred carvings to create one large feature, so, for example, there's a spiderweb that's 50 feet in diameter."

Not all of Sleepy Hollow's Halloween attractions are as colorful as The Great Jack O'Lantern Blaze. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery Superintendent Jim Logan described the historic walking tours at the still-active final resting place as being more subdued.

"If you don't like history class, it's going to be terrifying for you," he said.

The 19th century cemetery counts Irving among its nearly 45,000 residents. He died in 1859.

"Nothing says Halloween like the Headless Horseman, and we have him here," Logan said.

While the tours feature Irving's plot, Logan described the author's gravestone as "fairly low key."

"It's a classic tombstone shape, very modest, but we certainly dress up the lot of it," said Logan. "There's usually a pumpkin by it."

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