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On a Dark and Stormy Night // Adventures On The Way to the Headless Horseman

I love all things Halloween, so when I saw that Greenfield Village was having a Halloween Evening and candlelit dinner in their 1800s tavern, I knew I had to make it back to Michigan to check this out. Greenfield Village is an invention of Henry Ford, a sort of living museum dedicated to the ways of life that swiftly disappeared after the industrial revolution. It’s a huge place and you can walk the grounds which include a working farm, an old Main Street, featuring things like the original Wright Brother’s bicycle shop (picked up and moved from Dayton, Ohio) or stroll through the old craft village and see how the tinsmith or the printing press shops are run. Inside each building, re-enactors will tell you about their craft as they go about recreating a way of life that’s now long gone.

It was pouring rain when we arrived at the old Eagle Tavern. The streets outside were lit with pumpkins who shone bravely through the downpour, lighting the way for guests and ghouls alike. We stamped our feet and tapped our umbrellas against the wooden porch floor, waiting to be let in. A dapper man with a white mustache and paisley vest opened the door and led us inside. A rush of warm air swept over us and we hung our cloaks in the front hall, where the candlelight turned their shadow into dancing demons on the wall.

A girl in a bonnet and calico dress walked us to our table. The light of the candles made the oak table glow and reflected in the foggy thick glass windowpanes that separated us from the dark, rainy night. We sipped on hot cider and ate from heavy earthernware plates piled high with roasted vegetables and meats. Warm biscuits overflowed their baskets and the fiddler stopped by our table to play a lively jig. The din of plates and chatter soon died down and it was time to depart.

We walked toward the front door, the warmth and camaraderie of the tavern hall fading behind us with every step. Back into the dark night, we drew our umbrellas like swords and marched into the deluge. A thousand glowing pumpkins lit our way through the town streets, and we wandered past vampires and witches and wizards and even Dorothy and Toto who, never afraid of a storm, were standing there greeting each brave visitor as the water ran down their costumes.

I had been especially excited for the Headless Horseman, the final stop on the Halloween trail through the village. By the time we arrived at the pumpkin tree, the rain had intensified and gusts of winds whipped raindrops through the air as we vainly huddled under our umbrella. A man in a tricorn hat, black breeches and cloak began to recite the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. His voice rose and fell against the din of the storm as he told us of Ichabod Crane, a poor schoolmaster who on a cold, dark night like this one had found himself on the edge of his tavern seat, eyes growing wider as the story of the headless horseman was told beside a blazing fire. Like us, poor Ichabod had to leave his warm tavern, too — but his mind was still spinning with the tale he had just heard of the dead mercenary horseman riding the night in search of a new head. Ichabod trotted down the dirt rode, as creaking tree branches reached out for his hat and brambles caught his cloak. His heart pounded in his chest and his eyes strained looking for a demon in the dark. He began to whistle to calm himself, after all, he just had to make it over the bridge where the spirit couldn’t follow.

And then, he saw him, a horseman, rising from his stirrups, barreling straight for him, his cloak streaming in the night and nothing but fog where his head should have been.

Well, I don’t have to tell you how the story ends, I’m sure you remember…

Back in 2019, our storyteller finished the tale and wished us a happy Halloween. I asked him if it was too rainy for the headless horseman ride and he said yes, they’d held the riders back because of the rain. We sloshed across the cobblestone toward the exit, passing under the old covered bridge next to the mill. To our right, an old wooden fence ran along a muddy field where a few bundles of corn stalks stood silhouetted in the moonlight. This is where, on a dry night, they would have a “real” headless horseman chasing after a terrified Ichabod. They’d do a few laps to entertain the crowd who’d listened the story. And even though I’d just been told they weren’t going to appear, I climbed the little hill next to the field and stood there, peering into the darkness, eyes straining, hoping to see the outline of a galloping demon headed my way.

Happy Halloween -- may you never be too old to search for a ghost in the night!

Oh, and just for fun, here's a little 3-d drawing I made of the horseman, brought to life by candlelight!

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