The Headless Horseman

The Headless Horseman is the epitome of freakery due to his aesthetic appearance. He is a man draped in a cloak atop a dark horse. His freakery comes with the fact that he is headless and that his head is replaced by a Jack-o-lantern that he holds. The Headless Horseman was first popularized by Washington Irving’s story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, however it is said that the horseman’s origins lie within German and Celtic folklore.  With stories like The Bronze Horseman originating from Germany, it is difficult to tell where the horseman first originated because the legend has been prevalent since the Middle Ages. Still relevant in our lives, The Headless Horseman has been referenced in films such as Keenan and Kel’s Two Heads Are Better Than None, where the villain is instead a headless knight and has been depicted multiple times in art galleries. The Headless horseman will also be a part of NBC’s Sleepy Hollow, keeping the legend alive longer.

In relation to freakery, The Headless Horseman is the embodiment of the fear of a physical disability. He has no head at all but still functions perfectly, and his lack of a head is the focal point for his horror. Championed by Halloween because of his surrogate head, The Headless Horseman’s horror originates from his lack of a body part. He symbolizes the complete function of a person with less than what the populace deems as suitable or normal. He represents the idea that we, people with all of their body parts, are in fact freaks do to all of our excess, when he can thrive with less. The uncovering of this idea through accentuating a prosperous person who is lacking in general is a scary one, forever adding to The Horseman’s terror.Image

The Headless Horseman pursuing Ichabod Crane 


Bruner, Marjorie W. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: A Mythological Parody.” College English 25.4 (1964): 274-83. Print.

Nepomnyashchy, Catherine T. “Pushkin’s The Bronze Horseman and Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”: A Curious Case of Cultural Cross-Fertilization?” Slavic Review Special Issue: Aleksandr Pushkin 1799-1999 58.2 (1999): 337-51. JSTOR. Web. 21 Nov. 2013. <>.

Piacentino, Ed. “”Sleepy Hollow” Comes South: Washington Irving’s Influence on Old Southwestern Humor.” The Southern Literary Journal 30.1 (1997): 27-42. JSTOR. Web. 21 Nov. 2013. <>.

Wilson, Christopher K. “John Quider’s “Ichabod Crane Flying from the Headless Horseman”” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin 29.1 (1984): 12-19. JStor. Web. 21 Nov. 2013. <>.


3 responses to “The Headless Horseman

  1. Although you present an interesting and comprehensive analysis, I believe that the Headless Horseman also belongs in the category of the “Walking Dead”. To minimize the Headless Horseman as a freak doesn’t pay him justice as a monster because it fails to take into account that the Headless Horseman is monstrous because he is both in the world of living and non-living. The Jack O Lantern on his head is his attempt to normalize himself but only makes him more monstrous.

  2. I really enjoy the analysis of this monster, and I can see some of its attributes applying to my monster Rotwang, who is in the mad science genre. Both your monster and mine are missing an essential identifier of humanity; yours is missing a head, and mine is missing a hand. Additionally, both monsters replace their missing body parts with something inhuman. In, this our monsters both physically embody their monstrous differences.

  3. Great post! I love your suggestion that the Headless Horseman overturns notions of normalcy and abnormality by suggesting that humans are in fact continually bearing “excesses” when he himself can successfully function without a head. You also bring up some interesting points that encourage us to think about the Headless Horseman’s pumpkin as a sort of prothesis, which works to re-materialize his lost body part.

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