There’s a headless man
Ridin’ round the ‘hood
Who ya gonna call?
The first time I read this story about a headless horseman and a lady ghostbuster, I laughed till I nearly peed on myself. It’s a good ‘un, from Michael Norman and Beth Scott’s Historic Haunted America (1995).
The tiny town of Redington, Nebraska actually had its own headless horseman, back in the day. Legend says that on the night of September 30, 1883, local resident Charles Adams was killed in the course of what was evidently a home-invasion robbery; The robber (or robbers) took money, a diamond shirt stud, and assorted other goodies. Although they thoughtlessly decapitated Adams, they didn’t take his head with them. Within a very short time after his murder, Adams’ ghost was reportedly seen around his now-deserted cabin. On the first anniversary of that grim event, Adams rode through the middle of town on a white horse, carrying his head on the pommel of the saddle.
His killers were never captured.
So–probably in frustration–Adams continued to haunt his cabin, and ride through town every anniversary–for thirty years.
And so things might have gone on into their thirty-first year, had not a beautiful young schoolteacher named Maud DeVault come to town.
Maud DeVault was not just another pretty face on the western border of the state. She was sharp as a tack and brave as a lioness, and, after some of the townsfolk told her the strange, sad story of Charles Adams’ death, announced that she would dearly love to meet his wandering spirit.
Word gets around fast in a small town. Now there were a few young men around, half in love with the dainty but daring Miss DeVault from the moment they laid eyes on her. Love or not, they couldn’t resist the temptation to play a joke on the new schoolmarm.
And so, they laid their plans to bring her and the headless horseman together.
One of the young lads agreed to impersonate Charles Adams’ ghost, and they busily rummaged around until they found a white horse he could ride, and raided family linen stores to come up with sheets to make him look like a conventional ghost. He was to hide behind the Adams cabin–falling in by this time–and, on a signal, ride out onto the road and make a run for town, a mile north.
All was set. At nine PM on that September 30, Miss DeVault and a group of adventurous townies arrived at the cabin and settled down out front to watch for the ghost.
A short while later, they all stood up, with bated breath, as, out of the darkness, a horse carrying a headless horseman rode toward them, ghostly white under a full moon.
The would-be ghostbusters (none of whom were in on the joke; those youngsters were behind the cabin, about to bust trying not to laugh) promptly screamed and fled.
The young men who were in on the joke prepared to follow the fleeing citizenry, all of whom were trying to outrun the “ghost”.
Unfortunately, the ghost had run up on Miss Maud DeVault.
Miss DeVault didn’t run. Instead, she coolly grabbed the horse’s reins.
“Just what do you mean,” she demanded sharply,”running around like this, scaring the town silly? Answer me now!”
It wasn’t the words that took everybody by surprise; it was the rounds she fired into the air from a revolver she pulled out of the pocket of her skirt as she spoke.
Now the horse, most likely, could have handled being caught by the reins and held still by a slip of a woman, but pistol shots singing past its ears were more than the poor critter could bear without protest. It broke free and ran for cover.
It didn’t find any. In its panic, it ran headlong into a wire fence, reared up, and threw its rider. Sheets and swear words flew as the ghost hit the ground and lay still, knocked a bit cuckoo.
Now, mind you, most everybody still thought, at that point, they were actually beholding the ghost of the luckless Adams. Among those so convinced was a rather large lady–some two hundred eighty pounds large–who, overcome with fear, took off at a dead run, screaming at the top of her lungs. Despite her bulk, she outran all pursuers, Only after somebody took off after her in a Model T Ford was she stopped and brought back.
By now, the “ghost” was sitting up, rubbing a sore head and complaining of Miss DeVault’s roughness. The large lady sprinter took one look at him. “THAT’S MY BROTHER!”, she shrieked, and toppled over in a dead faint.
The Model T’s driver assessed the situation, executed as fast a turn as he was able, pointed the car toward town and floored it. He came back shortly with the town’s doctor riding shotgun.
The doctor tended to both the sprinter and the ghost. Neither suffered any lasting damage.
Later that eventful evening, when the dust had settled somewhat, Miss DeVault said matter-of-factly that she had expected some of the local wags would try to pull a fast one on the new schoolmarm, so she had loaded her revolver with blanks and set out to have some fun.
The townsfolk thereafter had a brand-new respect for schoolmarms. The young pranksters learned a lesson.
And–oddly enough–the real ghost, the headless Charles Adams, made no appearance that night, or any other night thereafter–unless Norman and Scott left something out of the story.
He must have figured that damNATION, decapitation was one thing, but gunplay was something else altogether.
Redington nowadays apparently consists of a few families, a school and a church; it hasn’t had its own post office, say Norman and Scott, since 1962. The wreck of Charles Adams’ cabin burned down in 1974. It’s a much quieter place, now, than it was one night back in 1913, for sure.