What Is the Story of the Headless Horseman?


Quick Answer

The Headless Horseman is a mythical character who appears in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by American author Washington Irving. Within the framework of Irving’s fictional narrative, the Horseman is said to have been a Hessian soldier who dies during the American Revolutionary War after losing his head to cannon fire, then continues to haunt the small village of Sleepy Hollow, riding at night in search of his head.

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Full Answer

First published in 1820, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” introduces the character of the Headless Horseman. The short story is set in the fictional New York village of Sleepy Hollow and primarily focuses on the attempts by a schoolteacher named Ichabod Crane to romance a young woman named Katrina, competing against a man named Brom for her hand in marriage. Within this story, Irving introduces another character: a ghostly figure known as the Headless Horseman, who is said to haunt the small village of Sleepy Hollow.

Irving writes that the Horseman was a Hessian soldier who died during the American Revolutionary War when a cannonball decapitated him. Hessians were German soldiers hired as mercenaries by the British to fight against American soldiers during the war. Within the narrative of Irving’s story, after dying, the Headless Horseman was buried near a church in Sleepy Hollow, and his ghost rises each night to ride through the town in search of his lost head. The Headless Horseman seems to appear at the end of the story and chases after Crane, finally throwing his head at the schoolteacher. Careful reading, however, suggests it is only Brom at the end, who throws a pumpkin rather than a head, which causes Crane to flee the town, leaving Katrina to marry Brom.

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