Where did the Headless Horsemen originate?
Stories about this creature have been around for a number of centuries. There is a strong chance that it comes from Ireland, where it has been called the Dullahann for hundreds of years. In Irish folklore, the appearance of the Dullahann usually signaled the death of a family member, similar to banshees. In some narratives, the Dullahann drove a black carriage, to carry the deceased away.
What does the Headless Horseman look like?
In American art and stories, the spirit is usually seen riding a black horse. He also wears a long crimson cloak or cape that has a tall, standing collar. Many depictions show him carrying a jack o’ lantern in one of his arms.
The Dullahann had a more gruesome appearance. It carried a severed head and used a spine as a whip. The horse the spirit rode was also often said to be headless.
What are stories about the Headless Horseman?
In American folklore, the Headless Horseman is a character in Washington Irving’s story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, written in 1820. The story is set in the small town, which is about 34 miles north of New York City and remains there today.
In his story, Irving tells us about two men who have fallen for the same girl – Katrina Van Tassel. The first man is Ichabod Crane. He is a heady schoolmaster and has a penchant for listening to tall tales and ghost stories in his free time. The second was Brom Bones, a muscular, cocky and somewhat arrogant young man who is skilled at horeseback riding.
One autumn night, on the way home from telling and listening to ghost stories with locals at a tavern, Ichabod encounters the Headless Horseman. The spirit traps Ichabod on a bridge and throws its “head” at him. The next morning, Ichabod is gone and all that is found is a smashed pumpkin on the bridge and hoof prints nearby.
The Headless Horseman in Writing, Art, Movies and Music
- A famous painting of Ichabod Crane being chased by the creature was made by Astoria Grand in 1858.
- In 1949, Disney released an animated film called “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad”, which contained two separate cartoon segments. The first was “Wind in the Willows”, and the second was “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow cartoon helped to popularize the story and the spirit in modern culture.
- A movie titled “Sleepy Hollow”, was released in 1999. It starred Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane, and Christina Ricci as Katrina. It is considerably more gruesome than the original story.
- The Dullahann makes an appearance in the Disney film “Darby O’Gill and the Little People”. It comes to take Darby away as he agrees to trade his life for his daughter’s life.