Horseman of Halloween
however, that haunts this enchanted region, and seems to be
of all the powers of the air is the apparition of a figure on horseback
a head."—Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
"When black cats prowl and pumpkins gleam, may luck be yours this
Halloween conjures up cheerful memories of fall festivals and the
antics of trick-or-treating. It's also a time when superstitions
in the telling of spooky ghost stories that will cause your imagination
wild like horses let loose in a paddock.
The modern-day customs of Halloween can be traced back to mid-18th
Scotland and Ireland when it was believed that the souls of the dead
amongst the living.
Back then, Alls' Hallows Eve marked the end of the harvest and the
the eternal cycle. The wearing of costumes and going door-to-door for
a Celtic tradition that represents the remains of supernatural beings
about. And, the practice of carving pumpkins, bobbing for apples,
mulling around bonfires are all associated with celebrating the annual
stories are based on
two conventions: A capricious explanation of ill-fated societal
that the spirit in the story has unfinished business to attend to.
Good writers and story tellers conjure up tales that captivate our
weaving yarns of truth into the fabric of the myths that prevail.
In the 19th century, ghost stories were popular forms of
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.
American classic that’s
a favorite around the Mojo Headquarters was written by Washington
the first part of the 19th century about a headless horseman that rides
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
pursued by the ghost of a headless Hessian trooper who rides a black
with devilish eyes.
According to Tarry Town folklore, the horsemen rises from his grave by
and races through the Glen of Sleepy Hollow to a nearby battlefield in
of his head which was, supposedly, removed by a stray cannonball during
Returning late in the night from the afternoon’s harvest
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
festivities. His path takes him down a darkened lane through the
that were central in the tales recited to the partygoers.
“It was the very witching time of night that Ichabod,
crest-fallen, pursued his travel homewards, along the sides of the
which rise above Tarry Town, and which he had traversed so cheerily in
afternoon. The hour was dismal as himself. Far below him, the Tappan
its dusky and indistinct waste of waters, with here and there the tall
a sloop, riding quietly at anchor under the land. In the dead hush of
he could even hear the barking of the watch dog from the opposite shore
Hudson; but it was so vague and faint as only to give an idea of his
from this faithful companion of man. Now and then, too, the long-drawn
of a cock, accidentally awakened, would sound far, far off from some
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
perhaps the guttural twang of a bull-frog, from a neighboring marsh, as
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
As legend has it, the horseman will vanish “…in a flash of
brimstone" upon crossing the church bridge that's adjacent to the Old
Dutch Burying Ground. Crane tries to hasten the pace of the
horse in a desperate attempt to reach the bridge and save his
making it to the other side, he looks back to see the horseman rear his
and hurl his decapitated head at the Schoolmaster, which strikes him in
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
lying next to a shattered pumpkin.
To read the story of the Headless Horseman, click: "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”.
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