The Headless Horseman is a legend about a ghostly decapitated rider on a gray horse. He is closely related to The Dullahan from Irish folklore and Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was based on the legend of the Headless Horseman.
The legend of the Headless Horseman begins in a little town called Sleepy Hollow, near North Tarrytown in New York. In life, the Horseman was a Hessian soldier of unknown rank, one of many German mercenaries hired by the British during the American Revolutionary War.
While fighting in the battle of Chatterton Hill, the Horseman was killed when his head was severed by a cannonball. His headless corpse was buried in a graveyard outside an old Dutch church in Sleepy Hollow.
Afterwards, many people claimed they saw his headless ghost appearing at night to frighten travelers who dared to walk the lonely roads alone.
One cold Winter night, a man left the local tavern and made the long walk home along the deserted roads. It was a dark night with no moon, and the only light came from his small lantern. His path led him past old Sleepy Hollow cemetery where the headless Hessian soldier was buried.
When the man came within site of the graveyard, it was after midnight. He had heard rumors about a galloping ghost that had been seen in the area and was nervous about passing the cemetery. To make himself feel better, he began humming a merry tune.
Suddenly, he stopped dead in his tracks. Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw a white mist rising from a grave in the cemetery. The man’s heart was pounding in his chest and the hair on the back of his neck was rising in fear. As he watched in horror, the white mist formed into a large horse carrying a headless rider.
The man let out a terrified scream as the Headless Horseman came galloping towards him at full speed. He turned and started running as fast as he could, desperately trying to make it across the bridge before the ghostly rider caught up with him. According to folk beliefs, ghosts and evil spirits will not dare to cross running water.
Just then, the man stumbled and fell onto the muddy road. He rolled into the ditch and the Headless Horseman thundered past him and disappeared into the night.
The frightened man lay in the ditch for almost an hour before he had the courage to crawl out and make his way home. When he reached his house, he woke his wife and told her about the decapitated ghost he had encountered.
By the next day, the story had spread all over town. Some people thought that the ghost must be roaming the roads at night in search of its head. Others claimed that the Hessian soldier was still fighting the battle of Chatterton Hill, unaware that the war had ended long ago. They say the Headless Horseman continues to roam the lonely country roads on dark nights.