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.


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Communicating With Ghost Children

DSC00504Truth be told, the thought of ghost children or the spirits of dead children is unsettling. We often see children as the epitome of innocence and love, and death is wrongly perceived as anything related to love, warmth, and care. But, as sad as it is, children do die far too early. What can be seen as sadder is that they are reported to be haunting various locations. When a haunted location announces that they are haunted by children, ghost hunters will flock to the location with toys as trigger objects. They may sing a few songs, or ask a few questions, talking in a baby voice, etc. But there are other effective ways of establishing communication with ghost children.

From my experience as a teacher and as a paranormal investigator, I’ve learned the following things about communicating with deceased children and pre-teens.

  1. Research child development: A child who is five years old will act very differently from a child who is nine. The first decade of a child’s life is crucial in their social and academic development. What I typically find in investigations involving children is that ghost hunters will streamline and treat the children all the same regardless of age. What results is talking to a ghost child as if they are several years younger than what they were when they died. Now, I don’t know if deceased children still grow and mature in the afterlife, but talking to a child like they’re younger is insulting to them, and they won’t want to talk with you. So, essentially, know your audience.
  2. Keep in mind of attention spans and trigger objects: This is both for the investigator and the ghost children. If you’re a teacher or have children of your own, you’re probably aware that a kid will only play with a toy for so long before they get bored and find something else more exciting. Or, if they’re not interested in talking to you anymore, they will simply walk away. You have to figure out what will keep the young one engage. So this means you might need to bring multiple toys, books, music, and different things to talk about.
  3. Let them show off: If you’re reading a book or singing a song, don’t finish the last word or two and let the kids fill in the blanks. Not only will you possibly have some interesting EVP’s, but you’re also creating an effective rapport with the child and gaining their trust. Kids love to show off their knowledge and abilities, especially to adults. Create an environment that allows them to do so, and your data collection will be very interesting!
  4. Practice: If you’re a teacher or have kids of your own, then you have an idea on how to talk to children. If you don’t encounter kids on a regular basis, consider babysitting or volunteering for an organization. I’ve learned that kids can smell hesitation and fear from a mile away and can take advantage of it. If you’re struggling with connecting with a child (and no, baby talk doesn’t count), practice by interacting with kids in your free time.
  5. Know Children Through History: Kids from the early 1900’s obviously lived different lives than children in the 21st century. The childhoods from the past had more responsibility where they might have even worked to help support their families when they were only 6 years old. This is much different from today’s child where they have preschool and modern technology to entertain them. For example, if you’re dealing with a ghost child from the Industrial Revolution, then they child most likely had a job. Knowing tidbits such as these will help you in your questions.
  6. All They Need is Love: From my experience of interacting with children, both living and dead, young and old, they crave love and attention in some from. If they are deceased, there is a good chance that they miss having physical contact such as hugs and lap sitting. This is why, especially at places like the Orphanage in Gettysburg, people will feel kids climbing into their laps and touching their hands. If you find yourself having this kind of experience, embrace it. You’re helping that child get the emotional attention that they need that will hopefully bring their souls at peace. Obviously set your boundaries if you don’t want that child going home with you.

With these tips in mind, you should be able to create a productive and rewarding communication session with the child. Communicating with young ghosts is much different than interacting with adults. Effectively communication is key in gathering information, and you might make a positive impact on not only your team and the location, but also for the child that you’re talking to. These deceased kiddos are more than a spooky story, they were once real people and souls that need some sort of resolution. Remember that, and you’ll make positive waves in the field.

Paranormal Safety and Code of Ethics

Standards, ethics and safety are all consistent topics that are almost always being tested by the paranormal community. Nearly on a daily basis, we hear news stories of ghost hunters being hurt while unlawfully trespassing. We hear of historical locations being damaged. We hear of ghost hunters with immoral practices, shady pasts, and with questionable motives.

With every story, I can’t help to think that safety and ethics are steadily falling by the way-side as ghost hunters clamber to become popular. Suddenly it’s no longer about whether or not we’re proving ghosts exists, but instead the attitude is, “prove to me it ISN’T a ghost”.

This sadly seems to be the way of the paranormal community as of recently.

It’s been proven time and time again, what gets you popular in the paranormal community, is bringing in the “ghost stories”. This has nothing to do with truth, but rather to satisfy people’s desire to be freaked out. The same reasons they’re following most paranormal pages, are the same reasons people watch horror movies.



According to fellow Paranormal Enlightenment Magazine author, Chad Stambaugh who wrote “An Investigators Guide to Paranormal Safety”, a survey he conducted last year with over 5,000 respondent turned up the following results; “2014: there were 4,738 reported injuries. This is ranging from a splinter all the way up to hospitalization for lung issues or a broken bone. We also had 24 deaths that were related to/or classified as paranormal investigating/ghost hunting.” These numbers are staggering. It’s unfortunate when many of people being hurt, could have been prevented these injuries by refusing to investigate locations that are obviously unsafe for public safety.

Websites like have sprouted up trying to teach investigators the dangers of paranormal investigation. These can range from anything from carbon monoxide poisoning, to electrocution, to falling through a ceiling while in an attic.

Disregarding no trespassing signs and refusing to heed warnings, are attributing factors to many of these injuries. Carrying a first aid kit, wearing appropriate safety gear, abiding by the law, and most of all using common sense; are all things that may help prevent many of these deaths and injuries that happen yearly.

Being in the wrong place as the wrong time could come at a great price. There is no never an excuse for getting failing to gain permission. Refusing to explore uncharted areas that may result in injuries to you or your members, could help.

Be smart. The safety of you and your team members are number one. This is far more important that looking brave for your YouTube channel. Your “bravery” could cost you your life, not to mention, trespassing can get you and your team arrested.


With the popularity of paranormal TV people are constantly trying to keep in competition with a ever-growing community of paranormal enthusiasts. Ghost hunters are always looking for a way to stay ahead of the curve by constantly pushing the boundaries of what is both morally and socially acceptable by most standards. It’s no secret that many paranormal investigators create YouTube channels mirroring what they see on TV. We have learned historically, that controversial topics put ghost hunters at the forefront of the popular mainstream of paranormal investigating.

Those that are consistently putting out edgy or controversial material are the ones who typically bear the most followers. Those that also put out what the average person views as “evidence of the paranormal” on a very regular basis quickly become fan favorites. And yes, these people have fan bases.

In the race to be the latest and greatest, people forget that a lot of we do, effects other people. Namely this includes private home and business owners seeking help, and the families of the deceased. Running to our devices to speak to celebs was one thing, but now we are even seeing teams attempting to jump on a fresh scene of a murder. At the end of the day we are responsible for our own actions, and how we effect others lives.

Do we want to be known for being edgy and morally impotent, or do we want to have our legacy be that of truth and integrity.

While we are attempting to seek the dead, we need to remember that the living need advocated for as well. This is a concept I learned in nursing. While we are tending to the dead, there is generally a family who needs tending to as well. When a death is fresh, and a funeral has not even occurred yet, an investigation is not appropriate.

How do I feel this can be fixed? I don’t know that it can. In a large community that has no solid set of law, standard nor rules. Who says that’s right or wrong? Who do we have to answer to?

I would guess the same courtesies we use in everyday life and interactions should apply to this facet of our lives as well. Starting with “treat other as you would want to be treated” would be a good start. Who we should answer to should simply start with holding people accountable for their actions as a “community”. Refuse to stand behind those impose immoral practices.

If you google “paranormal code of ethics” you will see many have tried to establish a set of moral code of conduct practices for everyone to follow.

Like any one in the public eye, as we are, I feel that this comes with the responsibility of being a good role mode with firm moral integrity. We should take pride in setting good moral standard for others out there.

As I always say, sometimes the RIGHT thing, isn’t the popular thing.

The Power of Influence

file000542882977If there is anything that is predictable about humans, it is the fact that we are easily influenced. Add the environment of hanging out in a dark space and the problem seems to multiply. As an investigator, I’ve been conducting experiments in the public ghost hunts that I host. Essentially, I would have one of the attendees “plant” a seed where they would make up an experience they were having during the EVP session. If I asked the person to say that they were being touched, I noticed that the rest of the people in the ghost hunt were getting touched. On the next night, if I asked a person to say they were hearing noises from a corner, the rest of the group would have the same experience. All it would take is one person to vocalize what experience they were having, and they were then shared by the rest of the group. Once the group realized that part of the ghost hunt was tainted, some of them were angry, while others realized how easily influenced they were in the ghost hunt.

The way to combat being influenced is having a healthy dose of self-awareness. When you’re on a ghost hunt, whether it is at a public location or a residential case, you have to remain objective. There will always be times where you will get scared or nervous, but being able to stop and assess yourself as to why you’re feeling this way is key. Is it because the area is dark? Did someone else have an experience that is making you nervous? Are you hearing noises? Where are the noises coming from? And so on.

In social interaction, we tend to share offenses. If a friend is venting about how a mutual friend of yours made them feel bad, you tend to side with the person you’re with. Then, a second friend comes to you venting about a concern about the same mutual friend. You begin to wonder whether you should continue with your relationship with said mutual friend. The same goes for the paranormal, but via ghost stories and shared experiences. We share each other’s fears and experiences at a location. For myself, I like to know the history and experiences that have happened in the past so that I can be objective during the ghost hunt. If someone hears a boom at 2:00am every night, I want to be able to assess it when 2:00am rolls around so that I can objectively analyze the encounter and be able to debunk it if necessary.

The more information I have, the more productive my investigation is. I want to know the information so that I can sort through anything that could influence me before I’m on-site. If I know ahead of time what to expect, the power that influence has over me diminishes, and I can make my own decisions and analysis of the paranormal encounters. The more self-awareness you have of yourself and your fellow investigators, the better you can guide and lead everyone to having a more productive investigation.