John Sallay submitted this grisly award medal for reader assistance. Can anyone help? -Editor
With Halloween coming in a few days, I thought this might be a good time for a query on the pictured medal, showing a headless soldier – with blood gushing out of his neck –
carrying a comrade piggyback. Does anyone know what story or circumstance this vignette might be referencing?
This silver school medal is British, awarded for "the best French translation" and measures 37mm x 47mm. The Christmas date may seem unusual or meaningful, but it was
fairly common during this period for these awards to be made at Christmas and Midsummer, which were the ends of the first and second terms of the school year. Given the 1791 date
and that the prize was for a French translation, I first assumed that the vignette had something to do with the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution and/or the beheading
of Louis XVI. However, those events didn’t happen until 1793.
The Headless Horseman that most of us know from Washington Irving’s "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (1820) also seems a little too disconnected, so to speak. That story
relates to a folk tale about a Hessian soldier who was killed in the American Revolution during the Battle of White Plains in 1776. According to the legend, the poor fellow was
decapitated by an American cannonball. His comrades carried off his body and buried him at the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, but the remains of his head were left on the
battlefield. So, the headless soldier’s ghost rose, to ride on Halloween in search of his lost head. Given the American connection, rather than British or French, and the fact
that the headless soldier is the rider rather than carrier, it doesn’t quite seem to fit.
Great medal, and a subject I've never seen before. Does the design motif ring a bell for anyone? -Editor
Wayne Homren, Editor
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