Falada in New York: 59th Street Carriage Horses

The Goose Girl Looks up at a Horse’s Head Hanging on the Wall; illustration by Willy Planck

wo days ago I left Hallett Nature Sanctuary in Central Park – my first visit since the coyote departed a month ago – and walked west on 59th Street.  Carriage horses waited patiently along the curb.

Gazing at their beautiful heads, I thought of Falada.

In Grimm’s fairy tale, The Goose Girl, Falada is a horse given by an aging queen to her beloved daughter as the girl embarks on a long journey to meet the prince she is to marry.  Falada has the power of speech, as animals often did in the old days. And because he is witness to a crime against the princess, Falada’s head is cut off to prevent him from speaking the truth.  When the unhappy princess, forced to work as a goose girl, learns of Falada’s fate, she begs the knacker to nail his head to a dark gate in the town so she might see him morning and night, when she passes beneath with her geese.

The Goose Girl and Falada; illustration by Ford from The Blue Fairy Book, ed. Andrew Lang

And each time she passes under the gate, she looks up and says:

Ah, Falada, that you hang there.

And each time, instead of lamenting his own terrible fate, Falada replies:

Ah, Princess, that you pass there
If your mother only knew
Her heart would surely break in two.

Things turn out fine for the princess in that fairy-tale way where the story ends just as a new life is about to begin. The truth is revealed, and, in a typical Grimmsian flourish, the criminal deceiver is tricked into proclaiming her own merciless punishment: “I would have such a person stripped naked, stuck in a barrel studded with nails and pulled through the town by two white horses until she is dead.”


The restored princess, goose girl no longer, marries the prince, “and both reign over the kingdom in peace and happiness.”

And what about the faithful Falada?  Or at least, the faithful Falada’s beautiful talking head?

Unless you’re Don Corleone who knew exactly  to do with the head of poor Khartoum, what do you do with a horse’s head, even the head of such a horse as Falada? Does the princess have the head brought to the palace? Does Falada continue to offer the princess steadfast animal sympathy as she negotiates the difficult passages of a new life in a strange land?

I wonder.

I wonder, too, what the 59th Street carriage horses would tell us, if they, like Falada, could speak.

Explore posts in the same categories: 2010, Horses, In the City, May, Wildlife/Natural History

5 Comments on “Falada in New York: 59th Street Carriage Horses”

  1. […] Yorker), and two species that originated in North America: Equus caballus (subspecies, suffering carriage horse) and Canis lupus familiaris (subspecies, city […]

  2. dr.babu varghese Says:

    I am an Indian.As an 8year old,my elder sister used to put me to sleep telling fables.As a senior citizen aged 67 years,this morn’Falada flashed in my mind Ilooked up this site.Amazing!It took me back 60 years!Nostalgic.

  3. mthew Says:

    Give me a goose girl over a princess any day…. I bet if those horses could talk they’d say, give me pastures and clover and lazy sunny afternoons instead of hard pavement, heavy tourists, and car exhaust up my nostrils all day.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Fantastic! LOVE this post, the weaving of the heads so closely interrelated, surely the brothers Grimm knew animals could speak, and who has more to tell us than a talking horse. beautiful pix too….

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