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The Headless Horseman pursuing Ichabod Crane,                     painting by John Quidor

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The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Halloween! Every kid in America looks forward to Halloween. Why? Well, because not only do we like to be scared when it’s only in fun, but we love to scare others for the same reason. A spooky story from my childhood told of a headless horseman pursuing another man on horseback. The description burnt in my mind…how could something without eyes to see, ride a horse in pursuit of another? Of course, the story is the “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving, where Ichabod Crane is chased by a horse with a headless rider.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories (Sterling Unabridged Classics)

Famous Worldwide

What many don’t know is that it’s not totally an American story, but Irving’s book became famous worldwide. I found other countries with similar legends and I’m sharing them with you on this page. I’m also sharing Halloween books, stories and costumes of the Headless Horseman. So, hang onto your saddle while we take a ride on the wild side of Halloween!

Ireland: On the Emerald Isle, a headless horseman, the Dullahan, rides a black horse, carries his head under his arm or sometimes up high to be able to see further. Wielding a whip made from a human spine, he prophesies death in the community. It’s said when he stops riding and calls out a name, that person will die.

Scotland: In Scotland the same entity is known as Ewen who was decapitated in battle, removing him from his destiny as a Chieftain. It’s said that both he and the horse are headless, haunting the area where he perished.

Germany: There are several versions of this horror. In one legend, the headless one is near the town of Dresden and is seen by a local woman. He is riding a grey horse and wearing a long grey coat. Nothing is ever said about what he does, but evidently he shows up from time to time. In another German story, the “wild huntsman” is a benevolent, headless soul, blowing a horn warning hunters not to ride the next day because they will have an unfortunate accident. Nobody explains how he can blow a horn if he has no head. Again, in some German stories, our headless haunt is an avenger, a hero, seeking out criminals who have committed murder. Some say he is accompanied by a pack of black dogs with fiery tongues. Odd that none of these headless wonders in Germany are threatening, as in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” and other places.

Did you know?

  1. Sleepy Hollow is a 1999 Tim Burton movie, inspired by Washington Irving’s story of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, starring Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci, featuring Martin Landau, Casper Van Dien, Michael Gambon, Jeffrey Jones and Miranda Richardson in supporting roles.
  2. Ichabod Crane is played by Johnny Depp, but the Headless Horseman, played by none other than Christopher Walken, is the star of the show.
  3. The set for Sleepy Hollow was a REAL town constructed in England especially for the movie. It was built in three months time and was the largest set ever built for a movie at the time the film was made.
  4. A classic horror film actor from Hammer films, Christopher Lee plays the part of the Burgomaster.

Watch the first encounter of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman at the link for the movie SLEEPY HOLLOW below.


The Old Wooden Bridge

The wooden bridge that Washington Irving used for the pursuit setting of the fleeing Ichabod Crane was real, but eventually was torn down and a modern day bridge erected. The post card shown below is of that spot where the old bridge originally stood, still over the same stream. Notice the plaque commemorating the area as being used in Irving’s book. It reads: “The Headless Horseman Bridge described by Irving in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow formerly spanned this stream at this spot.”



Dress As The Character

But the best part of this story about the Headless Horseman is that you can actually become the character for Halloween. The costumes shown below are staggeringly scary. I’d definitely run the other way if I saw one coming and there are lots of wusses like me. But the costumes are fun anyway, and you can dress the part this Halloween. But as for the horse, well…that’s another story, left for another time and another tale. Happy Halloween and I hope you’re not chased by THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN!!