While other countries have headless riders roaming their empty places, I believe America can lay claim to The Headless Horseman. Born out of the mists of early America, the Horseman is a vengeful, anonymous Hessian who lost his head to a cannonball during the American Revolution. While it's popularly assumed he rides around looking for his head (and claiming any he comes across along the way), he actually has it resting on the pommel of his saddle. He doesn't need a new head. He's just sadistic.

As a kid, I firmly believed the Hessian was a real Sleepy Hollow legend, and finding out that he was just an invention by Washington Irving was a bitter disappointment. But now I find it impressive that a mere short story has worked itself so deeply into American folklore to become one of our most iconic horror characters. He's enigmatic and elegant in his hunting, traits that have survived Disney and Scooby-Doo without losing a shred of scariness. He really should be allowed to ride across movie screens more often. The wonderful thing about legend (even if it's not a real one that owes its existence purely to Irving) is that not one version is definitive, and any good writer or filmmaker can explore its murkier corners.

Though I love the Disney version with all my heart (like many kids, it's how I first encountered the story) I'm including a scene from Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow below the jump. I was disappointed by it when I first saw it in theaters (I still question the production designer's decision to just plunk the bridge in the middle of town), but its chilly atmosphere and Hammer stylings have grown on me. 18th Century America is one of my favorite topics for horror and history, and Burton painted a delicious nightmare version of it. If only he hadn't chosen to give the Hessian such a familiar face ....