Each year, as soon as brisk autumn air replaces summer’s humid heat, Washington Irving’s chilling ghost story, The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow, is at the center of American folklore.
This classic tale involves a superstitious school teacher named Ichabod Crane, who happens upon a supposedly haunted town known as Sleepy Hollow, New York.
There, Ichabod is subjected to a horrifying encounter with a headless horseman who haunts the town before disappearing forever.
The legend has continued to fascinate the American public for two centuries, and the actual town of Sleepy Hollow lures tons of horror fans every year, hoping to catch a glimpse of the headless horseman.
But, this American tale drew inspiration from mythical creatures and events around the world.
The Headless Horseman
Tales of decapitated men on horseback are not unique to American culture. Instead, iterations of this legend are shared throughout parts of Northern Europe and Scandanavia.
For example, Celtic tradition speaks of a “dullahan”– a headless demon who bolts around atop a black stallion. And another tale, The Wild Hunstman by Gottfried August Burger, a German poet, featured ghostly men on horseback who dare not be encountered.
Washington Irving was well educated and even traveled throughout Europe while writing some of his earlier short stories. So, he likely would have read about these legends and perhaps drawn some inspiration for his own iteration.