November 11, 2008

The Headless Horseman ... of Canton, Connecticut



Today I watched Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow, one of my favorite movies. Lots of blowing leaves, cloudy skies, and old houses - perfect viewing for a November day. Sleepy Hollow also has some nice authentic foklore touches, like the jack-o-lanterns used for decorations in pre-Halloween America (the film is set in 1799), and the books of spells carried by some characters.

But you don't have to travel to Sleepy Hollow, New York to find a headless horseman. Canton, Connecticut has one of its own.

The story, recorded in David Philips Legendary Connecticut, goes something like this. In the autumn of 1777, a French horseman stopped at the Horsford Inn in Canton. While talking with the innkeeper, he mentioned that he was carrying payroll for the French troops helping the Continental army at Saratoga.

The horseman never arrived at Saratoga. No one in Canton saw him leave town, but the innkeeper claimed he had departed early in the morning after staying just one night. The townspeople doubted the innkeeper (who had a bad reputation), but since there was no evidence of foul play the matter was eventually forgotten.

Several years later, when the Horsford Inn burned to the ground, a headless skeleton (assumed to be the French horseman's) was discovered in the ruins. Soon after, a spectral headless horseman was seen in Canton, always riding westward towards Saratoga. Apparently, he's still riding through Canton today, sometimes even causing traffic accidents. Watch out if you're driving through Canton at night!

This is the second story I've posted about colonial Connecticut residents murdering guests (see Micah Rood). Was it a big problem back then? It's also interesting that the ghosts in this story and Washington Irving's Legend of Sleepy Hollow are both non-American (French, and Hessian (German)). Maybe xenophobia makes the ghosts even scarier!

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