- "I found the Headless Horseman. The stories of his taking human heads are no fables. But he was a man."
The Headless Horseman was purported to have been the malevolent ghost of a Hessian soldier—possibly Gerhard von Stantten—who roamed the village of Sleepy Hollow, New York on horseback with a pumpkin in place of his head. Though reputed to have been a casualty of the American Revolutionary War, the phantom was apparently encountered by the Templar Shay Cormac during the French and Indian War at night near the village's Old Dutch Church. Decades later, the Assassin Ratonhnhaké:ton investigated reports of mass murders committed by the Headless Horseman and managed to catch a glimpse of him from afar. Despite the brevity of the sighting, he concluded that the Headless Horseman was nothing more than a mortal man.
During the French and Indian War, the Templar Shay Cormac encountered a tombstone conspicuously mounted with a large pumpkin in the graveyard of the Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow. Later that night, he was beset by a headless grenadier wielding a naval axe. Forced to fend for his life, he fought the phantom but found him invincible. Only upon firing his pistol at the pumpkin at the grenadier's grave was he able to dispel the spirit.
Decades later in the midst of the American Revolution, the British colonial frontiersman Daniel Boone shared with his friend, the Assassin Ratonhnhaké:ton, the legend of the Headless Horseman which he found widespread throughout the United States as far as Kentucky. According to the ghost story, the Headless Horseman was a Hessian mercenary whose head had been blown off by a cannonball. In Boone's telling, the Hessian did not perish, but rather persists as a headless man chasing down innocents on horseback around the battlefield in search for his lost head. In the meantime, he wears a pumpkin as a substitute for his head and decapitates passerbys as though to vainly adopt their heads for his own. Although Boone himself had never seen the horseman, he claimed to have found the headless corpses he left behind.
Ratonhnhaké:ton subsequently took it upon himself to investigate these rumors. Searching in the Frontier, he eventually came upon a slew of headless bodies, just as Boone had reported. It was at that moment that he heard the maniac laughter of a horseman from afar, wearing a jack-o'-lantern. Rather than attack the Assassin, the rider rode away. Though Ratonhnhaké:ton had caught but a glimpse of the horseman, he recorded in his journal that the character was nothing more than a man, a mass murderer whose modus operandi involved beheading his victims and collecting their heads.
In 2012, Abstergo Entertainment, a public front for the Templar Order, used the genetic memories of the German soldier Gerhard von Stantten as an avatar for their Animus game console under the title "the Hessian". The hacker collective Erudito, in unveiling the truth behind each of the avatars, implied that von Stantten was the true identity of the Headless Horseman encountered by Ratonhnnhaké:ton. Aside from his Hessian origins, von Stantten was actually a psychopathic Templar hailed as an "unstoppable killing machine" by Abstergo.
- Real-life folktale
- The Headless Horseman is a reference to the character from the fictional short story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" written by American author Washington Irving and first published in 1820. Because of its popularity and its many adaptations, the story is often treated more as a folktale than the decidedly fictional story that it is.
- It is notable that the ending of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" implies that the Headless Horseman is actually the story's antagonist Abraham "Brom Bones" Van Brunt in disguise as part of a scheme to scare the protagonist Ichabod Crane out of town rather than an actual ghost.
- There are several identical elements between the Headless Horseman character in Assassin's Creed and its inspiration from the "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", such as the origin story of the ghost being a Hessian fighting with the British Army in the American Revolutionary War who died when his head was shot off by a cannonball and the motif of a pumpkin head.
- Aside from "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", the Headless Horseman has been a motif of European folklore since the Middle Ages.
- Assassin's Creed III
- The Headless Horseman first featured in one of the Frontiersman Club missions in Assassin's Creed III as one of the mysteries the player character, Ratonhnhaké:ton, better known as Connor, has to solve. After discovering bodies with missing heads in the Troy's Woods region, he spots the Headless Horseman laughing at him from afar before riding away. Despite the brief encounter, Connor believes there is sufficient evidence to conclude that the Headless Horseman is a normal man on a killing spree.
- Interestingly, in Daniel Boone's account of the Headless Horseman, he technically describes the Headless Horseman as not a ghost but a living man without a head because he states that the "lad didn't die" after his head was destroyed.
- Assassin's Creed: Rogue
- In Assassin's Creed: Rogue, the player character Shay Cormac can encounter the Headless Horseman in the region of Sleepy Hollow in the River Valley area by visiting the graveyard of the Old Dutch Church at night. Unlike the Horseman's depiction in Assassin's Creed III, he appears not on horseback but as a headless grenadier. He fights with a naval axe and bombs like regular grenadiers but is almost invincible. He may only be killed by either hanging him with a rope dart from a tree—ironic given the fact he is missing a head and neck—or by destroying the pumpkin on top of his gravestone using a pistol.
- The pumpkin on top of his gravestone glows yellow if the player views it through Eagle Vision.
- The canonicity of the depiction of the Headless Horseman here is dubious because it appears to be an Easter egg. It is also anachronistic because the legend is set in 1790, and the Horseman is said to have died in the American Revolutionary War, fitting with his appearance in Assassin's Creed III, but not in Assassin's Creed: Rogue, which is set decades earlier in the French and Indian War.
- ↑ The database entry "The Headless Horseman" in Assassin's Creed III does not explicitly place the war in which the man fell as the American Revolutionary War. However, not only is this the popular setting in the real-life folktale, but he is cited as a Hessian, which historically among the colonial wars of North America only served in the American Revolutionary War and were absent from the French and Indian War where Shay Cormac encounters him. In addition, Gerhard von Stantten, the Animi Avatar postulated by Erudito to have been the identity of the Headless Horseman himself, is described as having served in the American Revolutionary War.
- ↑ Assassin's Creed: Rogue
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 Assassin's Creed III
- ↑ Assassin's Creed III – Multiplayer