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October 2013

The Horseman of Halloween

"The dominant spirit, however, that haunts this enchanted region, and seems to be commander-in-chief of all the powers of the air is the apparition of a figure on horseback without a head."—Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow  

Halloween

An Irish Proverb: "When black cats prowl and pumpkins gleam, may luck be yours this Halloween."

Halloween conjures up cheerful memories of fall festivals and the good-natured antics of trick-or-treating.  It's also a time when superstitions abound in the telling of spooky ghost stories that will cause your imagination to run wild like horses let loose in a paddock.
 
The modern-day customs of Halloween can be traced back to mid-18th century in Scotland and Ireland when it was believed that the souls of the dead mingled amongst the living.
 
Back then, Alls' Hallows Eve marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of the eternal cycle. The wearing of costumes and going door-to-door for treats is a Celtic tradition that represents the remains of supernatural beings wondering about.  And, the practice of carving pumpkins, bobbing for apples, and mulling around bonfires are all associated with celebrating the annual harvest.

Ghost Stories

Ghost stories are based on two conventions: A capricious explanation of ill-fated societal concerns, and that the spirit in the story has unfinished business to attend to. 

Good writers and story tellers conjure up tales that captivate our senses by weaving yarns of truth into the fabric of the myths that prevail.
 
In the 19th century, ghost stories were popular forms of entertainment.  Mary Shelly's "Frankenstein," Edgar Allan Poe's collection of dark stories and poems, and Bram Stoker's "Dracula" were all penned in the 1800s and went on to become standard bearers for Halloween.

The Horseman

An American classic that’s a favorite around the Mojo Headquarters was written by Washington Irving during the first part of the 19th century about a headless horseman that rides through the Dutch Hamlet of Tarry Town, NY. 
 
Published in 1819 the "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" tells the tale of a frightening encounter between a lanky schoolmaster, Ichabod Crane, who is pursued by the ghost of a headless Hessian trooper who rides a black stallion with devilish eyes. 
 
According to Tarry Town folklore, the horsemen rises from his grave by night and races through the Glen of Sleepy Hollow to a nearby battlefield in search of his head which was, supposedly, removed by a stray cannonball during the Revolutionary War. 
 
Returning late in the night from the afternoon’s harvest celebration, sitting atop an old plow horse that Crane borrowed to ride to the party, his imagination begins to run wild with the ghost stories that were told during the festivities.  His path takes him down a darkened lane through the woods that were central in the tales recited to the partygoers.  
 
“It was the very witching time of night that Ichabod, heavy-hearted and crest-fallen, pursued his travel homewards, along the sides of the lofty hills which rise above Tarry Town, and which he had traversed so cheerily in the afternoon. The hour was dismal as himself. Far below him, the Tappan Zee spread its dusky and indistinct waste of waters, with here and there the tall mast of a sloop, riding quietly at anchor under the land. In the dead hush of midnight, he could even hear the barking of the watch dog from the opposite shore of the Hudson; but it was so vague and faint as only to give an idea of his distance from this faithful companion of man. Now and then, too, the long-drawn crowing of a cock, accidentally awakened, would sound far, far off from some farmhouse away among the hills—but it was like a dreaming sound in his ear. No signs of life occurred near him, but occasionally the melancholy chirp of a cricket, or perhaps the guttural twang of a bull-frog, from a neighboring marsh, as if sleeping uncomfortably, and turning suddenly in his bed.”
 
While passing beneath a haunted tree scathed by lightning (also featured in the tales told at the party), the schoolmaster spots a menacing figure upon horseback along the bank of the nearby swamp and soon realizes it’s that of the headless horseman. 
 
As legend has it, the horseman will vanish “…in a flash of fire and brimstone" upon crossing the church bridge that's adjacent to the Old Dutch Burying Ground.  Crane tries to hasten the pace of the borrowed plow horse in a desperate attempt to reach the bridge and save his life.  Upon making it to the other side, he looks back to see the horseman rear his horse and hurl his decapitated head at the Schoolmaster, which strikes him in the face and knocks him to the ground.          
 
In addition to the hair-raising chase, the ghost story encapsulates a cliff-hanger mystery about Crane’s ultimate fate with the only evidence of his potential demise being the wondering plow horse and the schoolmaster's hat lying next to a shattered pumpkin.

To read the story of the Headless Horseman, click: "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”.

Stay Tuned (for future articles)


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Mojo Thoroughbred Holdings, LLC (which conducts its racing operations as Mojo Racing Partners) is based in Fort Worth, TX and was formed in 2006.  Since then, Mojo has raced at Arlington Park, Churchill Downs, Indiana Downs, Keeneland, Kentucky Downs, Lone Star Park, Remington Park, and Turfway Park.


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