Real Name: Unrevealed

Identity/Class: Ghost/Astral Spirit;
   Citizen of the Holy Roman Empire in life (see comments)
   18th century to at least pre-modern era

Occupation: Haunter;
   former mercenary soldier

Group Membership: Former member of the Hessian Army

Affiliations: None

Enemies: Bones Bullinger and his hired hitmen (Louie, two unidentified others), Joe Jennings, Sally Klee;
   probably Bram Bones, Sam Langhorn (see comments)
   possibly
Ichabod Crane

Known Relatives: None

Aliases: The Galloping Hessian

Base of Operations: Sleepy Hollow, New York

First Appearance: (historical) The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820);
   (Marvel, mentioned) U.S.A.Comics#3/2 (January, 1942)
   (Marvel, seen) Uncanny Tales I#22/5 (July, 1954)

Powers: The Headless Horseman possesses all the attributes of Earth's ghosts such as passing through matter and drawing upon ectoplasm to create clothing and his spectral horse, which is fast enough to outpace a car going at full throttle. He is impervious to harm except by mystical means and can move quicker on Earth than when he was alive. He generally appears in the form in which he died, but he could likely appear in any number of related forms. The luminescence of his ethereal substance allows him to glow in the dark. By decreasing and increasing the amount he draws upon, he can appear solid or decrease his appearance until he vanishes all together. He is also able to induce fear-based heart attacks, though whether this is a "power" or lucky accident remains to be seen.

   His hauntings are apparently geographically limited, only able to manifest on the road outside of Sleepy Hollow that leads to the bridge the crosses the river outside of town, and unable to pursue anyone who manages to cross the bridge. However, he does seem to be able to throw his head, or the pumpkins that sometimes stand in for same, at people who have made it beyond that safety point.

Height: Unrevealed (see comments)
Weight: Unrevealed; likely none (see comments)
Eyes: Unrevealed
Hair: Brown

History: (Historical) - The man who became the Headless Horseman was a Hessian mercenary hired by the British Army in 1776 in order to assist British soldiers in the Revolutionary War. Among the 548 Hessian mercenaries who lost their lives in that war, he was killed in battle near Sleepy Hollow, New York when his head was blown off by a cannonball. According to later local legend, the Horseman returned in spirit form to take the heads of the living.

(Supernatural Thrillers#6 (fb) - BTS) - In 1820, writer Washington Irving based his short story, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," on the actual legend. It is unrevealed whether the other characters in the novel were based on true individuals in the Marvel Universe.

(Uncanny Tales I#22/5 - BTS) - In recent years, two investment brokers named Sam Langhorn and Joe Jennings (both attracted to the same woman, Sally Klee), journeyed to Sleepy Hollow for a vacation. Unaware of each others' schemes, both intended to impersonate the Headless Horseman, and frighten the other witless just as Ichabod Crane was in the novel; Jennings ultimately succeeded and Langhorn was deemed insane for claiming to have been attacked by the Horseman and locked away in a mental hospital, leaving Jennings to inherit his share of their business.

(Uncanny Tales I#22/5) - Klee had been Jennings' conspirator in their plan, and as the couple drove away from Sleepy Hollow she gloated over their success, but stopped when the real Headless Horseman appeared before them. He threw his head at their car, prompting Jennings to swerve in terror and drive off a bridge, killing both himself and Klee.

(Supernatural Thrillers#6 - BTS) - Years later, crooked attorney Bones Bullinger impersonated the Headless Horseman to force local businesses to pay protection money, and murdered police officer Matt Carter when he came close to exposing his crimes. When Matt's wife Kim enlisted the help of a friend, private investigator Duke Durbano, to get to the bottom of Matt's death, Bullinger hired hitmen to blow her up, then to ensure their silence dressed up as the Horsemen to scare them into a fatal car crash, as well as harrying Durbano, who had been pursuing the hitmen (or maybe it was the real Horseman who did all that - see comments). However the real Horseman apparently took offense at being impersonated (again) and scared Bullinger into having a heart attack. Around this time (whether before or after Bullinger's demise is unclear) Durbano broke into Bullinger's office and found his Horseman costume, confirming his suspicion that his previous encounter with the ghost had been faked.

(Supernatural Thrillers#6 - BTS) - As Durbano drove to Kim's house to call the police about his findings he took the shortcut driving through Sleepy Hollow, but on the lonely country road he was confronted by the real Horseman. Believing it was merely the disguised Bullinger, Durbano decided to use his car as a weapon and raced his pursuer to the narrow bridge, intending to force the Horseman over the side. As the Horseman threw his flaming skull at the car, Durbano swerved into the specter's horse. Durbano's car went over the side but he swam clear, convinced he must have also taken down his assailant, but there was no sign of the Horseman. When the police arrived Durbano told them his story, but they informed him that they had found Bullinger's body behind his office hours earlier, and to his horror Durbano realized his attacker had been the real Headless Horseman.

Comments: Created by Washington Irving;
   adapted by Stan Lee and Dick Ayers.

   Sleepy Hollow is a real community located near North Tarrytown, New York. Washington Irving is buried in the Sleepy Hollow cemetery and the area is full of ghost stories.

   The description of the Horseman's powers is based on both attributes of ghosts in the Marvel Universe and my own interest on parapsychology.

   It should be noted that as yet, these stories have not been officially incorporated into the MU, but there's no reason they couldn't--Snood.

   Midway through Supernatural Thrillers#6, Matt Carter's name switches over to Matt Slater. (editor's note: Both of those names sound very similar to Marvel Western Hero Carter Slade who became Night Rider/Ghost Rider I-- also by Friedrich. Maybe he had too many ghostly horse-riding guys on the brain?)

   Other "literary characters" that exist in the Marvel Universe include Dracula (based on the diary of Abraham Van Helsing), Frankenstein's Monster (journal of Robert Walton), Lord Ruthven (reported to Polidori) and Varney the Vampire (pieced together by James M. Rymer). Did I miss any... ???
   Maybe the Tripod Martians from War of the Worlds that appear on Earth-Killraven? - Snood
   Also Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, A.J. Raffles, Fu Manchu, Conan, Kull, Nyarlathotep, Captain Nemo, and likely many others we've overlooked. - Loki

   Will U: "Supernatural Chillers#6 was one of the first horror comics I ever collected. Afterwards, I wrote several short stores of the Horseman as an anti-hero co-existing with the Marvel Heroes in a universe with the DC heroes. As yet, neither Marvel or DC remain interested in the character."

The idea that a supernatural entity couldn't pursue someone across a bridge over running water was a fairly common belief in Irving's time; some 30 years prior to the publication of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow the poem Tam O'Shanter by Scots poet Robbie Burns also featured a protagonist (the titular Tam) who seeks to escape a pursuing monster (the witch Nannie) by crossing a bridge (the real world Brig O'Doon) before she can catch him.

   As noted by Prime, Uncanny Tales#22/5 is reprinted in Crypt of Shadows#9--Snood.
   In the reprint the Horseman got recolored from a spectral all-white look to a more mundane version, as shown by the images to either side of this paragraph. - Loki

   He's only ever seen mounted, and never next to anyone whose height is already known, making figuring out his height (with or without head) hard to estimate. Nor is it easy to find a reliable source for the average height of an 18th century Hessian soldier - and who is to say that someone with the fierce reputation of the soldier who went on to be the Horseman was average? For what it's worth, the height of Christopher Walken, who portrayed the character in the movie Sleepy Hollow, is around 6', while the height of Neil Jackson, who portrayed the character in the TV show Sleepy Hollow, is around 6' 0.75"; so if I had to pick a height for the Horseman (with head still on shoulders) it'd be 6', or 5'3" with his head off. In terms of weight, as a ghost he's likely spectral and weightless, while as a man (assuming 6' height) he'd perhaps be 175 lbs.?

   Hessians was the generic name the American soldiers gave to troops during the Revolutionary War who had been leased to the British by the landgraves of various Germanic states. In the 1780s Germany was yet to be unified as a single country, but what was to become Germany was instead a number of smaller states that together formed the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. Since the bulk of these Germanic mercenaries (but not all) came from Hesse-Kassel and Hesse-Hanau, the Americans dubbed all of the mercenaries Hessians.

   Since there's no ties to the rest of the mainstream Marvel universe (Earth-616), there's no reason why the Horseman's appearances need to be tied to the sliding timescale, and so may well have taken place in 1954 and 1973, contemporaneous to when the stories were published.

   Was he an enemy of Ichabod Crane? That depends on whether it was truly the Horseman who attacked Crane in the tale recounted in Washington Irving's story, or whether Bram Bones was impersonating the Horseman to frighten Crane. If the latter then Bones could probably be considered an enemy of the true Horseman, given how the Horseman seemed to target later imposters such as Bones Bullinger and Joe Jennings.

   Was it the Horseman who attacked Bullinger's hired assassins, or Bullinger in disguise as the Horseman? While it was definitely the real ghost who chased Duke Durbano at the end of the tale, given that Bullinger was already dead by that juncture, I think it was Bullinger the first time round. My reasons are threefold: One, the Horseman's confirmed attacks all took place in Sleepy Hollow on the road leading to the bridge, whereas the hitmen were attacked on the interstate. Yes, Bullinger was found dead behind his office, apparently killed by fright after seeing the Horseman, but we don't know where the encounter took placed, and he might have traveled some distance before his heart gave out. Two, the hitmen's attacker shouted "Die, meddler, die!" at Duke Durbano, distinguishing that encounter from all the others where the Horseman is always eerily silent. Three, the last time the readers see Bullinger as himself he has just pulled out his Horseman costume intending to immediately go to kill the hitmen; the next day Durbano finds the costume in the closet in Bullinger's office, while the police find Bullinger dead behind the office; so either he inexplicably changed his mind and hung the costume back up, then went outside and was scared to death, or he carried out his plan, killed the hitmen and scared Durbano, returned to his office and hung the costume back up, and then was later confronted by the real Horseman, triggering the heart attack that killed him. The only detail that seems to support it being the real Horseman all along is that immediately after the hitmen die, the Horseman chases Durbano until the detective is knocked out, and Durbano later wonders why Bullinger didn't finish him off, which might be seen as a hint that it was really the ghost; however, Bullinger might simply have wanted to avoid leaving any evidence of murder for the cops to find, since all the deaths he'd personally had a hand in up until then had been caused by people panicking at the sight of the specter, meaning they looked like accidents.

   Is the Headless Horseman Spirit of Vengeance seen in Ruins of Ravencroft: Sabretooth#1 this guy? For my money I doubt it. The Horseman seen in the stories recounted above is a vengeful spirit, yes, but he seems to also target innocents/good people such as Duke Durbano, plus Spirits of Vengeance tend to possess living hosts rather than being ghosts, and then there's the idea of him being active from the 1780s until the 1820s, never mind the 20th Century appearances. We know that Spirits of Vengeance frequently adopt appearances based on legends local to the areas they operate, so it's perfectly reasonable to assume that is what happened here. And if that's the case, then given we know the Horseman dislikes imposters, perhaps there's an untold tale where they duked it out! - Loki

by Will Uchtman with Prime Eternal; update/expansion by Loki.

Clarifications: The Headless Horseman should not be confused with:


Sam Langhorn

Sam Langhorn had a passion for history, and loved visiting historical spots, something his friend Joe Jennings liked to tease him about, claiming Sam got a kick out of associating himself with important places and people because he himself was not important. Despite this ribbing, Sam considered Joe a good friend, being the senior partner to Joe's junior in their investment broker firm. However the friendship became strained when both men fell for the same girl, Sally Klee. At first glance Sam looked like he had little chance against the handsome Joe, a man who always knew the right thing to say to the ladies, but Sally had expensive tastes and Sam had far more money than Joe... or at least he would have, so long as Sam remained senior partner in the firm. Unaware that Joe and Sally were secretly conspiring to get rid of him, Sam accepted Joe's suggestion that they visit Sleepy Hollow together and check out the sites associated with the famous legend. However, this got Sam thinking about how Brom Bones had removed his love rival Ichabod Crane by impersonating the Headless Horseman to scare him witless, and so was inspired to try the same ruse (unaware that Joe was planning exactly the same thing). Once the pair reached Sleepy Hollow Sam claimed to have a headache so he could stay in the room and recommended Joe go check out the Headless Horseman Bridge by himself, then after Joe had left Sam slipped off to a riding stable and hired a horse. With darkness descending he covered his head with a cape and placed a pumpkin head under his arm and waited at the bridge for Joe to arrive, but instead to his horror he saw the real Horseman (actually Joe in his disguise) racing towards him. Fleeing in terror Sam tried to evade the pursuing apparition, but the entity threw its head at Sam, striking him in the face and knocking him from his saddle as his horse stumbled and fell. With the clatter of hooves in his ears, Sam passed out.

   When Sam awoke raving about being attacked by the Horseman he was sent to an asylum, where he was visited by Joe and Sally, faking concern as they checked on whether or not the ruse had been successful. Sam's attempts to convince the doctor that his story was true merely made him look even more insane, and as he cried to Joe and Sally not to abandon him they left, happy that with Sam locked away and deemed non compos mentis that Joe would take over the whole business and with it Sam's money.

Comments: In Uncanny Tales Sam has blue eyes and black or gray hair; for the Crypt of Shadows reprint his hair is brown and his eye color is unrevealed, the only panel where it was originally visible now tinted. Similarly his horse, a purplish color in the original (presumably meant to be gray?) became brown in the reprint, while his Headless Horseman costume changes from green suit with red cloak (see left) to red suit with green cloak, and his business suit changes from green to brown.

--Uncanny Tales I#22/5



Joe Jennings

Joe Jennings was the junior partner in an investment broker firm with his good friend Sam Langhorn, but their friendship became strained when both men fell for the same girl, Sally Klee. At first glance Sam looked like he had little chance against the handsome Joe, a man who always knew the right thing to say to the ladies, but Sally had expensive tastes and Sam had far more money than Joe... or at least he would have, so long as Sam remained senior partner in the firm. Wanting Joe but with Sam's money, Sally conspired with Joe to get rid of Sam so Joe could take over the firm. Knowing Sam had a fondness for visiting historical sites him, Joe came up with the idea of luring him to Sleepy Hollow and re-enacting the plan Brom Bones had used to drive his love rival Ichabod Crane witless, to whit attacking him while disguised as the Headless Horseman. Ironically, once Joe convinced Sam to go to Sleepy Hollow with him Sam was inspired to try the same trick against Joe. Once the pair reached Sleepy Hollow Sam claimed to have a headache so he could stay in the room, while Joe went out, claiming he would visit the famous Headless Horseman Bridge after he'd had a few drinks. Instead Joe went off and slipped into his Headless Horseman costume, believing Sam intended to go there once his headache abated. As darkness descended the disguised Joe rode to the bridge, spotting Sam waiting there in his own Headless Horseman disguise. Seeing Joe's more convincing version, Sam panicked and fled in terror as Joe had hoped, closely pursued by Joe, who finally unseated Sam by hitting him in the face with his thrown "head." As Sam passed out in terror, Joe rode off. When Sam woke raving about being attacked by the Horseman he was sent to an asylum, where he was visited by Joe and Sally, faking concern as they checked on whether or not the ruse had been successful. Sam's attempts to convince the doctor that his story was true merely made him look even more insane, and as he cried to Joe and Sally not to abandon him they left. In the car driving away Sally gloated over the success of their scheme, but as their vehicle approached the Headless Horseman Bridge they saw to their abject terror the real Headless Horseman was riding to intercept them. As they drove onto the bridge the Horsemen threw his head at them, Sally screamed at Joe to get out of its way, and Joe instinctively swerved, driving their car off the bridge and killing them both.

Comments: In Uncanny Tales Joe has black hair; this becomes a reddy-brown in the Crypt of Shadows reprint. Similarly his horse goes from brown with green hooves (presumably meant to suggest they are glowing) to all-white in the reprint, and his Headless Horseman outfit changes from a dark purple suit with light purple cloak to a blue suit with orange cloak (see right), and his business suit changes from orange to blue.

--Uncanny Tales I#22/5



Sally Klee

Sally Klee was a beautiful young woman who had drawn the interest of two rival suitors, partners in an investment broker firm and friends, at least until Sally came on the scene. Though Sally preferred the younger, more handsome and suave Joe Jennings, she coveted the wealth of the senior partner Sam Langhorn, so she conspired with Joe to eliminate him and take his money. Joe came up with a scheme to use the legend of the Headless Horseman to drive Sam mad, a plot that seemed successful when Sam was committed to an asylum raving about being attacked by a ghost. Joe and Sally visited him, faking concern as they checked on the success of their ruse, then departed as he begged for their help to get released, coldheartedly leaving him to his fate. In the car driving away Sally gloated over the success of their scheme, telling Joe they would get married once Joe got hold of Sam's money, but as their vehicle approached the Headless Horseman Bridge they saw to their abject terror the real Headless Horseman was riding to intercept them. As they drove onto the bridge the Horsemen threw his head at them, Sally screamed at Joe to get out of its way, and Joe instinctively swerved, driving their car off the bridge and killing them both.

Comments: Unlike the other characters in her story, Sally maintains a consistent color scheme across both the original and reprint, remaining a blonde woman wearing a red coat in both versions. Even the doctor who treats Sam at the asylum changes, going from having brown hair to white.

--Uncanny Tales I#22/5



images: (without ads)
Supernatural Thrillers#6, cover (Headless Horseman logo and main image)
Crypt of Shadows#9, p1, pan1 (headshot)
Uncanny Tales I#22/5, p5, pan5 (thrown head)
Supernatural Thrillers#6, p1, pan5 (the Horseman, appearing as he did when Durbano recounted Washington Irving's story - this may be how Durbano imagined him, or how he actually appeared)
Uncanny Tales I#22/5, p1, pan1 (the Horseman, all in white)
Crypt of Shadows#9, p1, pan1 (the same Horseman image, colored)
Uncanny Tales I#22/5, p4, pan1 (Langhorn in Horseman costume)
Uncanny Tales I#22/5, p1, pan1 (Langhorn, headshot)
Uncanny Tales I#22/5, p5, pan2 (Jennings, headshot)
Crypt of Shadow#9, p4, pan5 (Jennings in Horseman costume)
Uncanny Tales I#22/5, p5, pan2 (Klee, headshot)
Uncanny Tales I#22/5, p4, pan6 (Klee, body shot)


Appearances:
Uncanny Tales I#22/5 (July, 1954) - Dick Ayers (artist), Stan Lee (editor)
Supernatural Thrillers#6 (November, 1973) - Gary Friedrich (writer), George Tuska (pencils), Jack Abel (inks), Roy Thomas (editor)


First Posted: 08/03/2002
Last updated: 10/31/2022

Any Additions/Corrections? please let me know.

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