Is the Tale of the Headless Horseman Real or Myth?




Is the tale of the Headless Horseman real, or just another ghost story? Well, yes and no. However, the tale of the Headless Horseman goes a little deeper than the one we are used to in America.


The traditional story of the Headless Horseman takes place during the 1790s, in a community referred to as “Sleepy Hollow” near Tarrytown, New York.


As the story goes, schoolmaster, Ichabod Crane, competes with Abraham “Brom Bones” Van Brunt (a local thug) for the hand of Katrina Van Tassel the daughter of a wealthy farmer.


According to the story, a Hessian, who lost his head to a cannonball during the American Revolution, was buried near the Old Dutch Church.


The trooper’s headless ghost was known to haunt the area every night, searching for his lost head, causing harm to anyone who got in his way.


One autumn night as Ichabod Crane leaves a party at the Van Tassel Home, he crosses paths with the Headless Horseman and is never heard from again.


Although yes, the story itself is fictional, however, it is largely inspired by reality (so, yes and no). The final showdown between Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman occurs on a bridge near the spot where the horseman is buried.


The Old Dutch Burial Ground, where the alleged gravesite of the horseman is, still stands in the village of Sleepy Hollow. The bridge that is mentioned in the story is referred to as the “Horseman’s Bridge” still exists as well. However, today it takes on a more modern appearance.


Additionally, the characters themselves are based on real residents of the area. It is believed that the character of Ichabod Crane was based on Jesse Merwin, a schoolteacher in Kinderhook.


Although, Kinderhook is further north in Columbia County. Washington Irving spent several months in Kinderhook during 1809, several years before he published his story in 1820.


Similarly, Katrina Van Tassel is thought to have been based on Eleanor Van Tassel Brush, with the character’s name coming from Eleanor’s aunt Catriena Ecker Van Texel. The gravesites of the Van Tassels, along with the supposed gravesite of the Headless Horseman, are still located within The Old Dutch Burying Ground.


It seems that the famous story by Washington Irving isn’t the only one about a headless horseman.




Celtic folklore

The legend of the Irish dullahan or dulachán (“dark man”) is a headless fairy who usually rides a black horse and carries his head on his lap, or holds it high so he can see long distances. He wields a whip made from a human corpse’s spine and when he stops riding, a death occurs. The dullahan will call out a name, and the person named will immediately die.


A prominent Scottish tale of a headless horseman concerns a man named Ewen who was decapitated in a clan battle at Glen Cainnir on the Isle of Mull. The battle denied him any chance of being a chieftain, and both he and his horse are said to be headless.


German Headless Horseman


German folklore

The German legends of the Brothers Grimm (Deutsche Sagen) is about two German folk tales of a headless horseman being spotted with their own eyes.


One of the tales is set near Dresden in Saxony. In this tale, a woman from Dresden goes out early one Sunday morning to gather acorns in a forest. At a spot called “Lost Waters”, she hears a hunting horn. The next time she hears it, she turns around and sees a headless man in a long grey coat sitting on a grey horse.


Another German tale which is set in Brunswick in Lower Saxony, a headless horseman called “The Wild Huntsman” blows a horn to warn hunters not to ride the next day, because they will meet with an accident.


In some of the German versions, the headless horseman seeks out people who have committed capital crimes. In others, he has a pack of black hounds with tongues of fire.


Although the tale of a headless horseman has been told in different countries, the famous story of The Headless Horseman is all American. So be very careful when riding your horse home from a party in the middle of the night and keep an eye out for a guy with such a bad attitude, he is always quick to lose his head.


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21 thoughts on “Is the Tale of the Headless Horseman Real or Myth?

    1. Yeah, like you, I also didn’t know it was a international tale. I figured it was an American tale. The story became more and more interesting as I dug deeper. I agree it would be a pretty darn frightening sight to see.

      I have written several articles about the supernatural and folk stories and was surprised to find out that they too had roots in other countries in one way or another.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read my article and join in on a discussion.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’ve always found the story by W.I. to be terrifying! Although I like the black horse…I grew up around horses in rural south Alabama. In high school English class (ages ago), I learned that our new country was hoping to gain its literary footing. Therefore, writers began writing “old legends” like our Sleepy Hollow story to give our literature a sense of agedness. The story of Rip van Winkle is another example.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds really cool. Your content reflects your education and talent for writing. I also shared some of your content with my friends on Twitter and like I’ve said to my other friends that is saying something for me anyway because I don’t share just anything with my friends. So thank you very much for the kind words and supplying me with some thought provoking and enjoyable posts.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. What an honor that other people are reading my stuff! Actually, I learned all that about early American lit in 11th or 12th grade. I had the best English teacher who actually taught my mom in hs as well.


    1. Me too LOL! I found it one of the scariest stories I read in school (when I was little of course). It wasn’t really the obvious, that he didn’t have a head, but I think it was more that he chased an unsuspecting person at night in the dark. Another thing, it really bugged me when they felt they needed to lighten the story by adding the Mickey Mouse characters.

      Here’s one for all my friends. What is the scariest horror movie you’ve ever seen? I really look forward to hearing what everyone’s answer to this one is. I actually wrote an article about the subject and I’ll try to find it and dust it off.

      I look forward to hearing everyone’s answer so please let us know, also include a little explanation on why that movie is the scariest you’ve ever seen. There is a method to my madness, rather than only wanting to find my next flick.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yup you’re right. The scariest part is that he chased people in the dark. One of the most scariest movies for me is Child’s Play. I remember watching it as a kid with my elder sister and her friends. I was so scared after that movie that I refused to play with any dolls 😂It’s funny but I’m still super scared of that movie even though I have seen other scarier movies.


      2. I know right! I bet you were always looking over your shoulder whenever you went outside in the dark right. Here’s a scary thought, after being born and raised in Detroit, I moved to the country several years ago, now I go to let the dog out and on some nights there isn’t a moon nor any sounds what-so-ever and I have a Yorkie to protect me lol.

        My all time scariest movie and I mean it still scares the whits out of me even today and I’m a grown man of 25 ok 49 is still the all time classic The Exorcist. I tell you if you want a real good scare your socks off, check behind the shower curtain after entering the bathroom and never again go in the basement type of movie watch that one if you haven’t already.

        Although watch it with someone else (preferably a priest). I’ve always loved real psychological horror movies blood and gore has just become so boring. If you’ve seen one body hacked to pieces and some naked women being slaughtered you’ve seen them all LOL.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Oh yes I have watched the Exorcist! Just like you said, many people consider it to be the scariest movie of all time. I was almost about to write its name but then I remembered Child’s Play and how it affected me as a child hahhaa 😂🤣I really like your sense of humor (I’m still laughing at the thought of a little Yorkie protecting you on the darkest of nights 😆)


      4. Here’s an article I wrote last year, our discussion made me think of it. Here’s the link if you want to check it out

        I’d like to hear your thoughts I enjoyed our conversation on the movies that are TRULY scary. And, I forgot to mention, you’re right, the first “Child’s Play” was definitely a good horror flick. I thought the others had some comedic qualities in regards to the sheer ridiculous nature of them, other than that I didn’t care for them.

        Unlike you, I wasn’t a little girl, or even that young when I first saw it but I can see how that would freak out a child who, as you said, enjoyed playing with dolls until that movie wrapped you lol. Look it at it through your example, yeah, that would set my development and social adaptability back years lol.

        Thanks for the great chat, I look forward to more. Maybe I’ll do a paranormal, supernatural, scary crap week sounds fun so grab your popcorn and lock up your deadly toys and I hope you enjoy.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Michael Loved the info on the Headless Horseman! Never knew he was American and in many International avatars. We have one in every military cantonement in India and the fella is an English Officer. We can hear hoof beats at night and in most of our Army regiments there is a story about the headless horseman. At the famed Garhwal Regiment Officers Mess in Lansdowne India there is a chair in the formal dining room which is always vacant …it is for the Regiment Ghost., the headless horseman .
    He is served dinner ceremoniously.
    The headless horseman is a very duty bound person who checks the Quarter Guard at night and slaps awake any sleepy guard.
    His head was cut off in a battle with local rebelling tribes.I guess.
    Colonialism always touted the “ He came he saw he conquered” narrative. Thus putting aside or making invisible all forms of local resistance . Thus perpetrating the idea of a lesser intelligent race giving way easily to the superior white race.
    ( this thought came to me while writing in response! )
    The image of resistance can be visualised in the portrayal of the Headless Horseman.
    Who cut off his head?
    Yet the colonial military officer was a powerful and admired figure.
    I live in Meerut 60 kms from New Delhi our capital. The first uprising against the British Raj began here in 1857
    The place is haunted,


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