The Missouri Headless Horseman: Haunting or Legend?

Flickr - CUA Werner Reischel
Flickr – CUA Werner Reischel

Paranormal investigating always has its ties with the history of a location and the events that have transpired on a plot of land or within a house or building. Many times this history is interspersed with fantastic stories and unbelievable myths. In Southeastern Missouri there is the tale of a haunting that is nearly extracted from Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” and it is just as bizarre as the tragedy that befell Ichabod Crane.

The legend of the headless horseman is certainly an incredible tale because it is based on decapitation and the afterlife. The interesting thing about this legend is that it is not specific to just one geographic location, but rather, claims of this spectral sighting have been recorded throughout our country. This leads me to think that perhaps there may be some validity behind this legend and that maybe the headless horseman could be an residual haunting riding in the night, terrorizing unsuspecting victims.

You may be familiar with “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” either as a child, through television or book, or just because it is mentioned frequently over the Halloween holiday. Although Irving’s work of fiction is based on an imaginary place, it still contains all of the elements of a headless horseman residual haunting. As stated earlier, this type of haunting has been reported all over the country, even here in the state of Missouri. The secluded glen setting of Sleepy Hollow is the Dutch settlement of Tarrytown, New York. The whispers persist throughout the town, speaking of ghosts and wizardry, with the presence of unsettled spirits appearing on its roadways. Following the mysterious setting and whispers of a legend, a residual haunting has an actual entity who continuously returns from the annals of a tragic history. In the case of Sleepy Hollow, this entity is the headless horseman who is said to be the ghost of a Hessian (German) soldier who had his head shot off by a cannonball in the Revolutionary War. These three elements will play out in another potential haunting in the Midwest.


Much to its name, the town of Cape Girardeau in the state of Missouri was founded as a French settlement. Here, along the Mississippi River, communities began to surface in the late 1700s and continued to grow from its original trading post. The legends tied to hauntings here would grow as well as the population increased. One particular area of land, known today as Bloomfield Road and located near Southeast Missouri State University, hosts a myriad of haunted legends.

“At one time, Bloomfield Road was considered the most haunted road in Missouri.”¹

It hosts multiple paranormal activities, the most notorious are tied to two tragic events that occurred near the modern-day Mount Tabor Park area. The most recent happened in the 1970s, when a young girl was raped and murdered. She has been infamously called “Mad Lucy” by the locals, as her screams can still be heard along this roadway. But don’t try and visit this park to see for yourself. Since it was too far from the town for police to patrol, it was shut down and since has been sold into private property hands.

The second paranormal event that happened along Bloomfield Road has its beginnings dating back to the 1780s, when French settlers began inhabiting this river area. Here the story parallels the familiar headless horseman legend. In my research some of the facts have been a bit sketchy, but it seems that there are two incidents tied to this southeastern Missouri town. One claim is that a male apparition is seen walking up and down the road, in search of his head. His story is unknown.


The other claim, which has had a farther reach within local communities, is that a headless rider has been seen on multiple occasions traveling up and down Bloomfield Road in search of his lost body part. Once again, we see the parallel of a man in constant search of his cranium. What a tragic thing to have happened to someone, which, from what may be ascertained, was the direct result of technological progress in the Revolutionary War. I am curious to find out just how many soldiers lost their heads in this war from cannon fire. Was it a concern for them, perhaps giving one another the advice to duck if the sound of a cannon was heard or watch closely when riding horseback? Such an incredibly traumatic event would certainly give rise to a residual haunting because the soldier’s spirit would never be at rest, doomed forever to comb the roadside in bewilderment and not knowing what had happened to them.

So the question is still left to be answered – is the headless horseman simply a legend, a work of superstition passed down through the generations through word of mouth or is it actually a residual haunting, interacting with unsuspecting residents?

To get a better perspective on how to best answer this question, we must first go back in history. Some of the earliest cannons used in the Revolutionary War were known as “mortars.” Their pot-shaped design was first developed in the 15th century and could fire a shell weighing 8½ to 16 pounds, reaching a distance of 800 to 1,000 yards. They were fairly accurate in their 45˚ trajectory shot, but were quite bulky and had to be relocated after each firing. I was unable to find out if mortars were used in the Cape Girardeau area of Missouri, but there is a Revolutionary War cemetery there. Battles were fought in this territory, but the possibility of soldiers being beheaded by mortar fire is unknown.


Soon after the mortar – howitzers, gallopers, and the cannons we know today were being manufactured and used during the Civil War era. These guns used smaller shells and were more accurate and easy to use for quick assaults. Major assaults were launched in the Battle of Cape Girardeau and the possibility does exist that soldiers may have been killed by cannonball fire.

There are two ways a soldier may have been decapitated, and both of them would seem to occur by strange chance. If a horseman were to ride in the trajectory point of a shot, then his fate would be sealed. Another way a horseman could lose his noggin, and this seems more probable for a residual haunting, is that many times cannons were shot over top of soldiers’ heads. I would imagine in the heat of battle that a combination of inattentiveness by the soldier on horseback and the sometimes unpredictable cannon blasts might equate to a very traumatic war injury, knocking the rider off his horse and making a bloody mess.

This drives our investigation and inquiry back to some possible final answers. It is certainly possible that cannonballs severed heads from horse soldiers and that the intensity of the bloody event would create a residual haunting. The psychic energies of the soldier, explosively intense, would become embedded in the environment. Some of the most haunted places in the world are ones were great tragedies have occurred. The West Virginia Penitentiary, Trans-Allegheny Asylum, and the Molly Hatchet home are just a few that fall into this category. One of the most notorious hauntings takes place in the Tower of London in England. Here the beheaded ghost of Anne Boleyn is claimed to be seen, roaming the tower in which she was decapitated by her husband Henry VIII. Headless hauntings do occur throughout the world and so having one here in Missouri is certainly possible.

Flickr - U.S. Embassy, The Hague
Flickr – U.S. Embassy, The Hague

Let’s flip the coin to the other side, though. How possible is it that multiple hauntings of headless people could be happening in our country and throughout the world? These stories are so outlandish that they have to be the work of legend and folklore. Leave the headless horseman storytelling to writers like Washington Irving and the real paranormal investigations to the professionals. After all, there is no proof that these types of anomalies exist, it’s all hearsay and possibly the ramblings of unstable minds.

Ultimately, though, you the reader decide whether or not you believe this phenomenon to be real. I encourage you to leave your thoughts in the comment box below or on the social media page this article is posted. I will leave you with one thought….

“Last September, 5½ years ago, John and Michael were coming out from town. On their way, they saw a man without a head…. Forty years afterwards, perhaps to the day, the same apparition was seen by a man we will call S.R….. [The location of this sighting] was about 150 yards north of Ludwig Essick’s house, on Emmitsburg Road, about a mile from town.”

  • Excerpt from Emmanuel Bushman, Gettysburg (Pennsylvania) Compiler, Tuesday, January 12, 1886.


Work Cited:

Spotlight: Gettysburg

The BattlefieldWe put the spotlight on Gettysburg, Pennsylvania which is a small town with a big history, a history that has gone far beyond that of the civil war battle that happened there on July 1-3 1863.  Yes it’s place in the history books is unquestioned and as a tourist town visitors arrive every year to walk the hallowed ground that are now preserved.  Some of these visitors come for the history while others come for it’s haunted history.   Walking the town you’ll find markers telling you of the property in front of you, the people who lived there, information about the 46,000 plus casualties, or what happened during/after the battle at the building or nearby.  You may even run into the many dedicated reenactors who permeate the town during the summer months. And that is before you set foot on the national park portion of Gettysburg! So having investigated Gettysburg many times myself I decided to ask some fellow investigators & friends what their thoughts on the town are, the history, the magic if you will of what makes this little Pennsylvania town so special.

Solider Statue in front of Inn 1863“What I think makes Gettysburg special for paranormal is mostly [the] limestone and [that] fuels energy [for paranormal events]. [Gettysburg] Has different feeling than other places.  My fave place is Hoffman mansion on Steinwehr ave. Place is highly active, [I’ve] heard voices out loud, been touched and pushed, and most Evp I ever got was there. Sachs Bridge is second, was a very sad feeling and very strong presence.” ~ Mark Saloky is an investigator and who lives in Gettysburg.

“[Gettysburg] special to me due to the fact of all the men who lost there lives there. It wasn’t a war against another country or nation but a war of brother against brother. That means a lot to me because it did have an amazing end it brought all of America together in the end … (for the most part anyway).  I’m always drawn to devil’s den and little round top, I love looking around from that vantage point [Devil Den] as well I’ve also seen some awesome light anomalies at night from up there.” ~ David Caltrider who is the founder of Manchester Paranormal Society located in Hanover, PA.

Pennsylvania Monument
Pennsylvania Monument

“We [Ruth & her husband] like Gettysburg for the history. We have two favorite spots on the Battlefield, one is Triangular Field . . . the eerie quiet. I even found an EMF meter – laying on one of the rocks, batteries were strewn all over, maybe someone had to leave in a hurry. The other is The Wheatfield, have one photo that we see a soldier on horseback. We also like Sachs Bridge, the history and the beauty of it.” ~ Ruth Himes resides in Lancaster, PA and is a co-founder of The Ghost Seekers.

“There are many people interested in the paranormal that visit Sachs Bridge. You can find any level of investigator there, new or experienced. It also has yielded results from EVPs to K2 hits to flashlight responses to Spirit Box responses. One even stated the bridge name![During one of their investigations] ~ Rebecca Slaughter Boyer resides in Hagerstown, MD and is the co-founder of Antietam Paranormal Society.

“The history is what makes it special but there is an energy that just has me coming back for more.”~ Sarah Mack resides in Indiana County, PA and is the founder of Shotts in the Dark Paranormal.

The Castle at Devil's Den
The “Castle” at Devil’s Den, monument for the 44th New York & (2) companies from the 12th New York Infantry Regiments

“I have always been fascinated in Gettysburg, PA. Being the daughter of a vet I grew up watching war films many of them pertaining to the battle of Gettysburg. So when I was old enough to learn about it’s haunted past. Just made me fascinated even more. It was always a place I wanted to investigate, one day. So, when I learned of the PRS [Ryan Buell’s Paranormal Research Society] and field trip they were hosting I jumped on the chance. When entering the small town you can definitely feel the sadness of it’s gruesome past. The first place I had the chance to investigate was with Heather Taddy in the Orphanage. That is where I also had my very first encounter with being touched by an unseen force. Several things happened that night though nothing like what happened in the old make shift lunch room/classroom on the main floor. We were in a group of about 13. We sat on the benches that were in there doing a session. I sat on the end with only one person to the right of me. As we started I had felt it get colder. As the questions went on I all of a sudden felt something or someone play with my hair to my left. As I said being that I was at the end of the bench there was no one sitting on the left. It didn’t scare me. Surprise? Of course. But it felt in my mind like a child playing. Probably just to let me know they were there. I have been in this field a long time but never had that happen up until that point. I wanted to experience the things I had heard about. And I left Gettysburg with a lot of memories of so much activity that occurred there during our stay. It is very much one of the most haunted places in America. Would I go back? Of course I would like to take my team there this summer.” ~ Victoria Smith is the founder of The New Page Paranormal Research Team located in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin.

Wheatfield“Gettysburg has, for me, the opposite feeling than I expected . Many times when I go to places where a lot of death has occurred , such as hospitals, asylums, etc, there is a feeling of doom or death. Gettysburg, however, has a calming and peaceful feel to it. I felt as though the spirits there were at rest peacefully. It really allows you to enjoy all the history tied to it. It is very active with spirits but perhaps because of the way it has been preserved and all the monuments for those who were killed, its as if the spirits are proud of their role and are happy to feel respected. It truly is a one of a kind place and one of my favorite haunted places!” ~ Ramona Burns

“It’s funny, because when I went for Paracon [Phenomenology] 105, We stayed at the Fairfield Inn. Spent the weekend at the convention, my daughter went on the junior hunt, and we had an investigation at one of the rooms at the Eisenhower. Had a strange experience of someone grabbing my head like they were talking a basketball. Twice. It was nuts. When we were checking out of the Fairfield, we were coming down from the third floor and as I looked into the second floor dining room, I saw who I thought was the hostess arranging the plates. She walked off towards the left, out of view, so I put the bags down to say thanks. I stepped in and there was a stack of chairs where she walked to. When I got downstairs I asked the hostess if anything ever happened in the upstairs dining room and she told me, “the lady of the house is always.straightening up”. It was something else, cause she was physically there, not translucent or anything like that.” ~ Douglas Chizmadia live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“What makes Gettysburg so special to me is that it has struck a balance between the past and the present. It isn’t one of those places where something as phenomenal as war or as final as death left their mark and then moved on, leaving behind only only a small plaque describing the number of lives lost during three days of fighting. Gettysburg is a town where past generations chose to preserve their unique heritage for future generations, long before President Lincoln spoke his mighty words. By doing this, not only was this pivotal point in our history kept alive, but that moment has also become a key factor in the town’s prosperity and growth, forever rooted in our hearts and minds.  The thoughts and needs of the people who endured those terrible days have also not been forgotten, but preserved and expounded upon. Take for instance the need to be remembered, to not be left to wander through the afterlife unnoticed. Echoing across time, their needs have become stepping stones to assist the living in paranormal investigations and discoveries. If their history were forgotten, lost in the shuffle of modern living, would we understand why we briefly caught a glimpse of a soldier walking across a field, heard the haunting sounds of drums echoing in the night or the cries of women, where none could be found? In my opinion there is no other location in the United States that has such a strange dichotomy as Gettysburg, between the history and the haunts.” ~ Kendra Belgrad tour guide for Ghostly Images.

The history is alive and the energy that is felt by the millions who visit Gettysburg every year is always there just around the corner with something new to find everyday. Many historic locations in Gettysburg like the Hoffman House, Devil’s Den & battlefield, Sach’s Bridge, The Orphanage, & Fairfield Inn to name just a small few are well worth visiting if you’ve never been to Gettysburg. We recommend a trip whether you are coming for the history or haunted history, take it from us you won’t be disappointed and if your lucky you’re have you’ll own story to tell…