Centralia Man Has Been the Headless Horseman for 14 Years

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After reading the headline “The Headless Horseman Is Coming to Morton on Halloween” on Chronline.com, 20-year Centralia resident Curtis Kelley reached out to tell the newspaper he, too, is a regular Halloween Headless Horseman.

The Chelatchie Prairie Railroad in Yacolt every year does train robbery reenactments, which is where Kelley got his start as a horseback cosplayer in 2007. He’s been both sheriff and outlaw in the realistic performance where the steam train is slowed to a halt by the bandits who use real guns (but shoot blanks) to “rob” the train.

One weekend, the railroad asked Kelley to don the Headless Horseman costume and ride alongside the train.

The original version of the get-up was much more silly than scary.

Showing photos from now over a decade as the horseman, he told The Chronicle: “Did you see how bad the costume was from 2007? That was embarrassing. I saw that and I'm all, 'you don't want me to do this in public, do you?'”

After that first weekend, Kelley decided if he was going to continue being the horseman, he needed to remake the costume to be scarier and more authentic.

He took to the internet. Websites he visited suggested using distance, darkness or other optical illusions, but he didn’t have those luxuries. After the train rides, passengers came to take pictures with him in costume, so he needed something that was convincing even in daylight, up close.

“The things that they do to make it work don't work for me. So it's like, that's a total bust,” Kelley said.

He and his wife, Gina Kelley, spent the next year watching movies and reading stories about the Headless Horseman for inspiration. The most convincing movie costume he came across used a green screen to edit out the horseman’s head, which of course Kelley could not do.

“So, after months of research I designed my own, and helped my wife make it. She worked all through the night the night before the event and even in the car on the drive down. Talk about cutting it close. The finishing touches were being put on as I was getting dressed, which I have to do in front of the horse because the costume freaks the horse out,” he said.

Since its 2008 debut, the outfit had held up on rides through wind, rain and sunshine. Soon, it became Kelley’s Halloween costume, too.

He would scare trick-or-treaters by sitting still on the porch of his Centralia home in the Edison District and stand up when they least expected it. His scares have been pretty successful, he said, because he’s had plenty of coffee, candy and hot chocolate thrown at him by screaming kids and adults alike.

Last year, Kelley had to help a friend with a project on the night of Halloween and didn’t get home in time for his tradition, disappointing his neighbors who had come to love the costume.

“There was a bunch of them that were saying, ‘Well, we’re going to call The Chronicle if you're not out here this year, because, where were you?’ and I asked, ‘Well, what do you think they're going to do?’” Kelley said with a laugh. “It was surprising because I never gave it that much thought.”

The train robbery reenactments and the Headless Horseman train rides have also become wildly popular. This year, all tickets for the latter, which will take place over the Halloween weekend, are already sold out. Those interested in booking other rides in Yacolt can visit tickets.bycx.org. For rides in Chehalis, visit steamtrainride.com.

For anyone taking the train robbery ride with sensitivity to sound, Kelley said let the railroad know ahead of time, and they can get lighter charges and cut down on the noise.

“We try to make it good for everybody that's there,” he said, adding later: “It's a lot of fun. And it helps the railroad. Keeping the old steam engines and the old rail lines alive is kind of important, and this is something that I can do that gives me fun and gives them fun and helps them to keep going.”

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