It doesn’t really clarify for younger audiences that the headless horseman was just one of the locals who’d dressed up in a costume.
(Brom Bones had been jealous of the schoolmaster’s advances on a local heiress, Irving makes clear in his original story.) The heiress, it’s implied, had been leading on Ichabod, to drive Brom into a jealous frenzy.
Washington Irving also published “Rip Van Winkle” in that same collection (attributing both stories to a fake Dutch historian that he’d been using as an alter ego — Diedrich Knickerbocker).
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve remembered the scary story about the Headless Horseman.On its final page, Washington Irving reveals that “an old farmer who had been down to New York” brings word that Ichabod Crane is still alive!Though the townsfolk of Sleepy Hollow believed he’d been taken by the Headless Horseman, the truth is that the gangly schoolmaster “had left the neighborhood, partly through fear of the goblin…and partly in mortification at having been suddenly dismissed by the heiress…” When the townspeople found a pumpkin shell by the Sleepy Hollow bridge, next to Ichabod’s hat, they’d just assumed this meant a goblin had carried him away.I once wrote an essay about the original story, noting that it’s really a story about the legend itself.In a way, it’s Washington Irving’s own tribute to rural America, with its close-knit communities and local superstitions.So Brom dresses up like the headless horseman that night — carrying a pumpkin under his arm, which he harmlessly throws at the schoolmaster at the end of his ride.