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Headstones Damaged At Sleepy Hollow Cemetery Immortalized By Washington Irving's Literary Classic

SLEEPY HOLLOW, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- There is worry at a church cemetery made famous by "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

The pastor says someone has done subtle-but-significant damage to historic headstones, CBS2's Tony Aiello reported Thursday.

In Sleepy Hollow, there's no escaping the legend of the Headless Horseman.

Two hundred years ago, author Washington Irving, familiar with the Old Dutch Church, took a name from a headstone for a main character, Katrina Van Tassel.

The historic marker was damaged by a female visitor in recent days.

"She put some kind of chemical solvent on and then something that would be plastered up against it to take the impression," Rev. Jeff Gargano said.

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Gargano said seven headstones were damaged -- some of them chipped.

"It's heartbreaking, it's worrisome," Gargano said.

All of them were covered with a chalky residue, like one at a nearby cemetery where three stones were damaged.

FLASHBACKVisitors Bring Vandalism, Disrespect To Historic Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

There are suspicions it was done by someone who sells headstone castings as folk art, perhaps taking advantage of Hollywood's fascination with Irving's gothic masterpiece.

In the tale, it's in the Sleepy Hollow the cemetery where the Headless Horseman tethers his frightening steed among the gravestones every night.

Thousands visit every year.

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Police have a lead on the woman. Gargano said he doesn't think her intent was malicious, but worries about the chemical residue on fragile stone.

"Has this chemical permanently destroyed these things?" Gargano said, "We will we see the evidence of destruction a year from now, five years from now, 10 years from now? We just don't know."

A GoFundMe page is raising money for repair and surveillance cameras and perhaps additional signage, reminding people not to take headstone rubbings or impressions.

In Sleepy Hollow, there are plenty of places to buy Headless Horseman souvenirs.

Late Thursday, CBS2 learned the woman, who is from Ohio, told police she used modeling clay to make the headstone impressions, and didn't believe it would damage them. Police are evaluating whether charges are appropriate.

Ossining Police also investigated residue left on at least one headstone at historic Sparta Cemetery and posted an update on Facebook after contacting a woman from Ohio who makes headstone impressions.

An Ohio woman later posted an update of her own on her Etsy page.

Updated 5/29/21. This story initially appeared on 5/27/21.

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