The Equine Terror of Southwest Georgia
by Dale Cox
Many Americans know the story of Sleepy Hollow and its Headless Horseman, but few know the tale of the Headless HORSE of Albany, Georgia!
Albany is a thriving and diverse city on the Flint River in Southwest Georgia. Its riverfront has been turned into a major destination with paths, overlooks, exhibits, museums and the Flint RiverQuarium. More than 100 years ago, however, the big attraction of the Albany riverfront was not an aquarium but the ghost of a headless horse!
The story first received media coverage on July 9, 1888, when it was picked up by newspapers across the South. The media splash originated when a newspaper correspondent visited Albany for a fishing expedition. While enjoying the overnight outing from the Flint River up Muckalee and Kinchaoonee Creeks, he came to know a local fishing guide named Dink Melvin. The man told a remarkable story of an equine ghost:
…THE GHOST that Dink describes so eloquently is in the shape of a big white horse without a head. The horse is perfect in shape, except he has no head, and Dink says that he has been seeing it for the last five or six years. Its trysting place is along the river banks.
The boatman and guide was confident that he was seeing a real ghost and offered to prove it to anyone with the nerve to go out with him at
…If he gets in his boat and rows across the river the big white horse follows him to a certain place and then disappears. It has given him several bad frights, and one Sunday evening, as he was returning from the creeks above, the thing came right up to his boat and seemed to be trying to put its fore feet in it. Dink says that he has been scared a good many times, but this was the worst fright he ever had in his life.
Melvin told his story was told while the fishing party was camped on the bank of Muckalee Creek during the first week of July 1888. Melvin’s
audience was fascinated by it:
“I’d just like to see some man that had the grit to shoot at that thing, but I wouldn’t care to be close to him when he done it,” said Dink.
“Well, sir, you take me there and show it to me, and I’ll shoot at it,” said the scribe.
“No sir, Boss, don’t you do it,” interrupted Harrison Pettis, the scribe’s faithful boatman, from the outer edge of the tent.
Pettis warned the reporter that he knew a man who had shot at a ghost only to die within three weeks. He warned the writer not to shoot at the ghost, “for I don’t want you to die.”
The reporter persisted, however, and a search for the ghost was planned, but the guide had to cancel due to illness.
A second search was then planned, but had not taken place at the time the story hit the papers and no account of what happened during it has yet been found. Perhaps future research will reveal more about the reporter’s search for Albany’s headless horse!
No explanation for why a horse would haunt the Flint River at Albany has ever surfaced, nor has any reason been found as to why it would be headless.
The spirits or “ghosts” of animals are common features in the American Indian legends of Georgia. Other well-known folk stories tell of ghost dogs, frogs and other creatures. Perhaps the Albany story is a holdover from such a tale?
The popularity of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow has led many communities to claim that headless horsemen roam their streets. So far as is known, the Headless Horse of Albany has been silent for many years and no one is known to have reported a recent sighting.
It is possible, of course, that he has shied away from the lights and increased activity along the riverfront and is haunting other, darker realms.
The story of a headless horse or headless mule is actually a part of Medieval culture that drifted to the Americas. In Brazil, for example, a specter in the form of a headless mule is said to represent a woman who was cursed by God for her great sins. Turned into the form of a headless mule, she roams the night. Perhaps the Albany story is an incarnation of the Brazilian legend?
Whatever its origin, the Headless Horse is one of Georgia’s most unique ghost stories.
The Albany riverfront has experienced a remarkable revitalization in recent decades. It now features walkways, green space, beautiful views of the river and more. The Ray Charles Memorial features the famed singer and songwriter in statue form and the sounds of his songs drift out over the riverbanks as visitors approach. The riverfront also is home to the restored Bridge House, now a visitor center, the Horace King Overlook, the Flint RiverQuarium and museums of science and history.
To learn more about the community, click Visit Albany Georgia. It is the official website of the Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau.