The Headless Horseman and me

Published 10:10 pm Tuesday, September 25, 2012

When I was in the fifth grade, my class decided to stage a play as part of Montclair Elementary School’s annual Halloween carnival. We selected “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
Casting decisions were made. One of my classmates was chosen for the role of Ichabod Crane. I don’t recall his name. Another classmate was chosen for the role of the Headless Horseman. I don’t recall his name.
We rehearsed several days each week for about three weeks. During each rehearsal, a large wad of papers was used to represent the cannonball that resulted in a mounted soldier becoming the Headless Horseman. A group of us boys decided during those rehearsals that a wad of papers just wasn’t going to work as a cannonball.
We knew that something round, black and fairly lightweight was needed. We pondered several days. Then I remembered I had a set of plastic pins and bowling balls at home. You may remember such sets — the pins were red, green and yellow. Of course, the bowling balls were black. Because they were light, you could throw either a pin or bowling ball at an aggravating sister and not do enough damage to get spanked — just enough to warn a sister you were not going to let her Barbie date G.I. Joe.
Those of us who decided to substitute a plastic bowling ball for that wad of papers determined it would not be wise to use the bowling ball during the last few rehearsals. It would make its debut the night of the show. We had been taking turns throwing the wad of papers at the boy portraying the Headless Horseman (of course, he was not headless until after his noggin’ was taken off by the cannonball). Since the plastic bowling ball was mine, I was afforded the honor of throwing it during the show.
As the scene featuring the firing of the cannon and the decapitation of the mounted soldier neared, I waited in the wings. Boy, was the mounted soldier going to be surprised when what appeared to be a cannonball flew across the stage.
The sound effect for the firing cannon came first. I threw the plastic bowling ball across the stage. To my horror, it struck the very much-surprised mounted soldier in his head. Not only was he surprised, but also so was our teacher. After glaring across the stage for about three seconds, it became evident to her that I was to blame for the realistic special effects. Why so evident? My classmates had deserted me.
The audience, not knowing any better, applauded my special effect. They believed the direct hit on the actor’s head was a part of the show.
I ended up apologizing to the actor, my classmate.
I was the most surprised. I did not think I would come close to hitting him in the head. I had counted on the plastic bowling ball flying past his head and toward the other side of the stage.
If I had thrown that plastic bowling ball at the actor 10 more times, I likely would have missed each time.
I never got that plastic bowling ball back, but I haven’t lost my head over it.
Mike Voss covers the city of Washington for the Washington Daily News. He’s ready to serve as a special-effects adviser for any local school wanting to do a play about Blackbeard, pirates and flying cannonballs.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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