Q&A: Conner Prairie’s Headless Horseman

Ahead (ahem) of another season of frightening folks at Conner Prairie, we chatted with the maestro of malice about traversing the grounds on horseback, and his hopes for the future.

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The headless Hessian, terrorizing Conner Prairie for 34 years

Shawn Spence from Conner Prairie

When and where did you learn to ride a horse?
My second cousin on my mother’s side taught me to ride while I was a young lad, far before I started fighting in the American Revolutionary War.

So is this just a temp-job thing? How long have you been terrorizing the patrons of Conner Prairie?
I think 34 years in the same position can hardly be called a temp job, although I only put in a total of 48 hours a year at Conner Scairie.

Conner Scairie, that’s good. Ever feel guilty about scaring kids?
Never. Not even once.

What’s your go-to move for a guaranteed scare?
I like the old dart-out-of-the-woods-with-an-insanely-large-horse-in-complete-and-total-darkness-and-with-a-large-sharp-sword-threaten-humans-riding-in-a-hay-wagon trick. Works every time.

What’s the scariest place at Conner Prairie?
There are various buildings that are said to be haunted this time of year. But I don’t find these places scary. The spirits are my friends. They’re great storytellers.

What are some of the challenges of navigating the grounds?
Well, I have no head, so I have no sight. But that’s OK, since I’m a malevolent ghost. I’ve got a sense of what needs to be done—and to whom.

But four hours on a horse for four nights a week has to be a real pain in the neck, right?
My pain runs much deeper than that.

Sounds like you’re thinking of making a career switch. Maybe we could put in a good word for you with the Colts?
I’ve always wanted to be a sommelier.

Do you have a favorite version of the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” tale? What did you think of the Johnny Depp movie?
I was honored to have Christopher Walken play me. I’ve always been a big fan.

What does the Headless Horseman go as for Halloween?
In the past three years, I’ve gone as Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. My horse has gone as Spider-Man, Thor, and Iron Man.

If a kid wanted to make a headless horseman costume, what’s essential?
The sword is important. You’ve got to be threatening, you know. The cape, that’s a must. You must look haunting.

When not searching for his head, the horseman dreams of being a sommelier.

Shawn Spence from Conner Prairie

What scares you?
The reboot of Will & Grace.

Are you single? Married? Dating?
I’m married to my life’s work—reclaiming my head, no matter what.

Are you on Facebook?
Social media’s just a fad, so no. Besides, the name of the site offends me. But years ago, I did have a MySpace page.

If you were to describe your perfect midnight ride with a companion, what would it include?
I’d be down for a dark evening with Pennywise, Freddy Krueger, and Michael Myers. I think that’d help us expand our haunted footprint.

When work has you down, where do you go to clear your head? Maybe pop over to The Apple Store for one of those gourmet caramel apples dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt? Our dining editor raves about them.
You’re really rubbing salt in my wound with these questions. But when I need a break from the seemingly endless search for the shattered remains of my skull, I get in a quick nine at Prairie View. I’m not very good, though. I have zero depth perception.

What’s your take on Pumpkin Spice Lattes?
Not a big fan (cough cough).

Catch the Headless Horseman and other fun fall activities at Conner Prairie (13400 Allisonville Rd., Fishers, 317-776-6000), Oct. 19–22 and 26–29, gates are open 6–9 p.m. with activities running as late as 10 p.m. The last entry to the Corn Maze is 9 p.m.

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