The Headless Horseman Didn’t Come From Sleepy Hollow
Most people think Washington Irving invented the character of the Headless Horseman. (And Irving does his danged best in the manuscript to convince his readers that the Horseman is a hoax, that it’s only the bully Brom Bones dressed up as the Horseman to scare Ichabod. The readers, though, weren’t having any of that. They made the Horseman real, whether it was what Irving had intended or not.) He didn’t. In fact there is a REAL Headless Horseman. “Real” in this case meaning that there is a real tradition of a headless ghost on horseback seen by numerous witnesses over the years in the Sleepy Hollow area of New York State. (The little town of Sleepy Hollow didn’t exist–officially–until 1996, when the village of North Tarrytown renamed itself to cash in on tourism dollars. This is the same area Irving wrote about, though.)
In actuality the Headless Horseman didn’t originate there, either. He appears in European folklore going back until the Middle Ages, if not earlier. He is the “dullahan,” or “dark man,” a dark fairy or spirit figure in Celtic mythology, and appears twice in the tales of the Brothers Grimm. I’m not sure how he made it to Tarrytown, as the original inhabitants there were of Dutch stock. If you happen to see him, you could always ask him.