Spring-Heeled Jack: Victorian Boogeyman

In Victorian England, no mythical creature was more frightening to people or more sensationalized than Spring-Heeled Jack. Some claimed he was a devil, a creature who could jump unnaturally high and was abnormally agile, while others believed he was a human being hiding beneath a mask and a cloak.

Jack mainly attacked women, ringing the doorbell and tearing their clothing to shreds once they answered. The only injuries reported during this time are scratches and cuts from the creature’s claws, described by many as long, sharp talons. John Cowan, Lord Mayor of London at the time, made a statement to the public asserting that he believed the attacks were perpetrated by a gang of wealthy thugs and dismissed any supernatural elements that most of the reports contained. Cowan’s written statement was also published in The Times.

It appears that some individuals (of, as the writer believes, the highest ranks of life) have laid a wager with a mischievous and foolhardy companion, that he durst not take upon himself the task of visiting many of the villages near London in three different disguises — a ghost, a bear, and a devil; and moreover, that he will not enter a gentleman’s gardens for the purpose of alarming the inmates of the house. The wager has, however, been accepted, and the unmanly villain has succeeded in depriving seven ladies of their senses, two of whom are not likely to recover, but to become burdens to their families.

At one house the man rang the bell, and on the servant coming to open the door, this worse than brute stood in no less dreadful figure than a specter clad most perfectly. The consequence was that the poor girl immediately swooned, and has never from that moment been in her senses.

The affair has now been going on for some time, and, strange to say, the papers are still silent on the subject. The writer has reason to believe that they have the whole history at their finger-ends but, through interested motives, are induced to remain silent.

Cowan’s appeal fell on deaf ears and the papers of London continued to report grandiose tales of Jack’s exploits and Penny Dreadful’s were printed telling of England’s newest boogeyman. Jack was used as a tool to scare children into behaving for their parents and Catholics told tales of Jack to curb their parishioner’s enthusiasm for spirits.

Sightings

Spring-Heeled Jack was first seen in 1837 in the Black Country, an area in the West Midlands. It is said that a woman was attacked by Spring-Heeled Jack and that her blouse was torn off and her stomach was scratched violently. The individual, creature, entity, demon, or whatever it may be, then leapt away. Police asked the woman what the individual looked like and she claimed it was a man wearing a cloak with long, razor-like fingernails. When the papers began to publicize the attack, many more people came forward claiming to be victims of this supposed crazy man. It wasn’t until this first publicized attack that people told of their experiences because they were afraid people would question their sanity. The newspapers sensationalized the story, creating mass hysteria. Armed vigilante groups patrolled the streets at night and even encountered what they believed to be Spring-Heeled Jack on more than one occasion during their excursions. Individuals pretending to be Spring-Heeled Jack became commonplace. Many took to the streets in an effort to gain attention for themselves or to scare friends and family. However, they could never catch him as, as soon as they would come upon him, he would leap onto a rooftop or over a fence and be out of sight in a blink.

A year later, a young woman was attacked by an individual who breathed blue flames at her, likely making this one of the worst cases of acid reflux in history. Many more people came forward claiming they had also seen a creature that breathed blue flames and could jump extremely high. Descriptions of the individual were so varied that it was impossible to obtain an accurate description of a suspect. In some cases, Jack looked like a devil with short horns and a pointed beard. In others, he resembled something closer to human. The only common threads were the long talons and the ability to jump to great heights.

Likely the most famous encounter with Spring-Heeled Jack happened to a woman named Jane. One night, Jane heard a knocking at her door. When she asked who was calling at such a late hour, a voice from the other side of the door claimed to be a police officer and demanded a light. The voice told Jane that she should hurry because they had caught Spring-Heeled Jack. Jane ran to get a candle and opened the door, but the figure that stood on the doorstep was not that of a police officer. The figure was that of a tall man with glowing red eyes. Before Jane could speak, he spat blue flames at her. The man attacked her, but Jane’s sister, hearing the struggle from another room, rushed in and scared the man away.

A short time later, a woman named Lucy Scales was out walking with her sister at night. She reported that a man jumped out of the shadows and spat blue flame into her face. Scales’ sister claimed the act caused Lucy to have some sort of seizure and fall to the ground. Both ladies reported that the man was tall, lean, and was wearing some sort of tight fitting white outfit. On his head he wore a strange helmet and his eyes were two balls of flame. Scales’ encounter helped to shape the image of Jack as a gentlemanly devil. After this encounter, Spring-Heeled Jack again disappeared.

In the 1870’s, people in the English countryside began seeing Spring-Heeled Jack and became victims of attacks. Village people set up traps and patrolled at night, desperately trying to catch whomever was attacking the locals, but their efforts were in vain. Again, Jack disappeared. Shortly after these attacks, people began seeing a similar creature/individual in Kentucky and it is believed that Jack had made his way to America. The description of Jack by those who had seen him were similar to those of the reports in England, but people in America reported that Jack shot flames out of his chest not his mouth. It is at this point that tales of Spring-Heeled Jack disappeared for some time. There were no further attacks in Kentucky and reports of sightings dwindled and disappeared altogether.

In 1939, people in Cape Cod began to report strange sightings. The creature’s ability to disappear and reappear at random, leap to great heights, and move very quickly really freaked people out. This particular creature was known by locals as the Black Flash and was believed to be the devil incarnate. The creature would attack at random, brandishing long iron claws and, as quickly as it appeared, sightings of the creature ceased. Black Flash was also seen in Provincetown, MA, around the late 1930’s. Two men were attacked by this individual and witnessed the Black Flash leaping over 8′ fences. The last known sighting of the Black Flash was in December of 1945.

In 1973, a Canadian family was visited by Spring-Heeled Jack. They claimed that the visitor arrived on their doorstep one night and, when they answered the door, they were greeted by a pair of glowing red eyes and a tall, gangly stranger dressed in all black. He had fingers topped with long, sharp claws. As quickly as he appeared, he leapt away. The family explained that the visitor had reached heights of 50-60 feet in the air!

In 1996, a police officer pursued a suspect who was seen jumping tall hedges in a residential neighborhood. The officer managed to catch up with the individual but, before he could utter a word, he was punched in the face and knocked out cold. When the officer came around, he was told that he’d been punched by Spring-Heeled Jack. Apparently attacks like those were common in England in the 19th century.

Who is Spring-Heeled Jack? Was Cowan right to believe that the “creatures” people saw were simply well-to-do jerk-wads out to scare innocent people for fun? Reports of Jack are now few and far between, but some believe that reports of creatures like Mothman in Point Pleasant, WV, are actually sightings of Spring-Heeled Jack. Are they one and the same?

Until next time, stay spooky!

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

Janine

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Bird of Death: An exploration of vampiric folklore and legend.

Perhaps one of the most influential horror films of all time is F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, an expressionist horror film released in 1922. It was an unauthorized adaption of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Stoker’s heirs sued Murnau, ordering that all copies of the film be destroyed. A copy slipped under the radar and Nosferatu still lives on today with a ravenous cult following, but the same can be said of Vampire folklore. There’s a reason why Nosferatu holds the spot for third-best reviewed horror film of all time on Rotten Tomatoes. People are still watching, enthralled by the cinematography of a silent, black and white film that first premiered in America seven years after its release in Germany.

Since the release of Nosferatu, vampire legend has been at the forefront of popular culture. From Fright Night (1985) and Van Helsing (2004), to Leslie Nielsen’s vampire comedy Dead and Loving It (1995) and Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), the story of the vampire and the struggles that one without a pulse might face enthrall us. They captivate us and make the small hairs on the backs of our necks stand up. Well, aside from the Leslie Nielsen movie, anyway.

But vampire folklore isn’t always about entertainment and celebrating characters that embody the truly tortured spirit of the creature of the night. Vampire legends have existed for millennia: the Mesopotamians, Hebrews, ancient Greeks, and Romans all shared cultural folklore tales of demonic entities bent on drinking the blood of the living. In fact, beliefs regarding these legends were so strong that they created mass hysteria and led to executions.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, many believed that those who suffered from tuberculosis were actually vampires in disguise. Individuals with TB experienced loss of muscle mass, exhaustion, lack of appetite, a chronic cough that produced blood, redness (swelling) around the eyes causing light sensitivity, low body temperature, chills, and malaise and, when one member of the family came down with TB, often the whole family would be affected. When a family member passed, they would be buried for a short time, then dug up and their corpse examined. Blood in the mouth, paleness of the skin with no general decomposition, or bloating of the corpse were all signs that their family member was actually a vampire, feeding on them nightly and stealing their health. Now, we understand that bloating is a natural part of decomposition and TB is often accompanied by a chronic cough that produces bloody sputum, but early on in many cultures around the world, the fear of having a loved one turn into a vampire was very real.

Rabies was also often linked to outbreaks of vampirism, which would cause the afflicted to become senile, be light sensitive as well as to garlic, and there’s that nasty propensity to bite people.

Rabies and tuberculosis were often mistaken for vampirism, but according to folklore tales from Greece, Romania, England, and Japan, a person can become a vampire not only by being bitten, but also if they:

  • Ate of a sheep that had been killed by a wolf.
  • Were the child of a woman who was once looked at by someone who was a vampire.
  • Were a nun who stepped over a body that had been exhumed or had not been buried.
  • Had teeth when they were born or stillborn.
  • Practiced sorcery.
  • Were an illegitimate child or their parents were illegitimate.
  • Died before being baptized.
  • Were excommunicated from the church.
  • Were the seventh son of the seventh son.
  • Had red hair.
  • Were suddenly killed or committed suicide.
  • Renounced their religion.

In order to free oneself from the vampire curse, the afflicted would have to do one of the following:

  • Dig up the corpse of the suspected vampire, cut out its heart and burn it on a sacred stone. The ashes would then be mixed with water or wine and drank.
  • Burn and grind the bones of a vampire and blend with flour. Make bread. Eat of the bread.

Neither of those suggestions seem particularly appealing to me…

There were also ways to protect yourself against vampire attack. Some vampire folklore states that a small bag of salt should be carried at all times. According to vampire legends, if salt is spilled on the ground, the vampire will have no choice but to stop and count each individual grain. In a pinch, birdseed can be substituted. It is also said that “sealing” your home with salt can protect against creatures of the night or against those who might bring harm. Sprinkling salt around door and window frames will keep vampires and other demonic creatures at bay so long as they are not explicitly invited to enter. In Romania, it is believed that a young boy dressed all in white and sent into a cemetery on a white horse can find vampires beneath the earth. If the horse stops atop a grave, you’ve found a vampire.

In Slavic society, it is believed that the spirit lingers forty days after death. In southwest Romania, in the small village of Craiova, in February of 2004, police investigated a case of grave robbing. Recently deceased villager, Petre Toma, had been dug up and impaled. According to his family, he had become a vampire. They believed that Toma was returning from the grave each night and drinking their blood because family members felt ill and tired, feelings they were unable to shake. Six weeks after his funeral, his corpse was dug up and, upon examination, they found that his hands were no longer clasped, rather they were at his sides, and his mouth was full of blood. The villagers did what their beliefs dictated. They used a pitchfork to remove Toma’s heart and, finding there was also blood in that, they burnt the heart and mixed the ashes with water, sharing the mixture among themselves. Instantly, they felt better and the family was no longer plagued by nightly visits from Toma.

This case is not unique in and of itself. There were many people of many different cultures throughout history who believed that vampires were real and, because they were a real threat, certain precautions were taken when preparing a body for burial. Those with birth defects such as cleft pallets or other deformities might be singled out. In this case, the body is pierced through the heart or “trunk of the body” using an iron stake. It is said that iron is a natural ward against evil and will pin the vampire to the earth, preventing him from rising from the grave. In other cases, bricks or stones were forced into the corpse’s mouth, effectively breaking the jaw and preventing the vampire from feeding. A more familiar practice to modern day vampire aficionados will likely be the use of garlic as protection. Vampires are said to despise garlic and, in many instances, the mouth of a corpse might also be filled with garlic.

Today, there are people who claim to be vampires, there are people who drink the blood of the living, but they’re not the real deal. Popular authors like Stephen King and Anne Rice have written about these blood drinking creatures of the night, but a story is just that.  In the case of vampirism, I think we can drive a stake through it and put it to rest. Just in case, I think I’ll sprinkle a little salt before I go to bed tonight.

Sweet dreams!

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

Janine

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S1 Ep. 7: Loaf Or Death Situation

Mimi’s love of steak leads to the tale of a haunted steakhouse and Underground Railroad location in Mequon, WI. Janine discusses the weird and wonderful world of toxic fashion trends in Victorian England. This episode contains a little more Capone, copious amounts of arsenic, and whiter than white bread.

We’d like to start recording mini episodes! Please send us your favorite urban legends or folklore tales or share your haunted experiences with us. We’d love to read them on the show! 

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Fashion Victims

Arsenic dyed gowns, mercury hats, and highly flammable clothing were in large supply during the Victorian era in Europe. I suppose this one fits into the “weird and wonderful” category.

All About the Green

In the early 19th century, fashionable people invested in garments that conveyed their lot in life and, even if these garments proved a danger to them, people dressed to impress. Dresses and accessories were often dyed by mixing copper and highly toxic arsenic trioxide, or white arsenic, to achieve a brilliant green hue that was popular at the time. Women adorned themselves with imitation flowers and wreaths that were dusted with the deadly substance, inhaling the powder and absorbing the toxins through their skin, but the employees tasked with creating the pieces for sale were hit the hardest by this fashion trend.

One such account from 1861 involves a young woman named Matilda Scheurer. She was only 19 and worked in one of the many factories tasked with creating the wearable curios the women of the time desired. Her specific job was to dust, or “fluff,” the leaves of the artificial flowers with  green powder. Her exposure was so high, the tips of her fingers had taken on a permanent green hue and even the whites of her eyes were green.  When she ate her lunch, the powder from her hands was inevitably ingested. Matilda, as was often the case with garment workers like her, died of her exposure in a rather violent manner. She convulsed  and expelled green foam from her eyes, nose, and mouth. Upon examination of her body after her passing, it was found that the green powder had infiltrated her lungs, stomach, and liver.

After Matilda’s death, an organization called the Ladies’ Sanitary Organization, a Miss Nicholson specifically, was particularly vocal regarding the horrifying conditions in which the people worked within the factories and published a first hand account of her findings. She stated that some of the women were half dressed and complaining of “a dreadful cold.” The handkerchiefs they pressed to their noses came away red with blood. Blindness and sores on the face and hands were also common exposure related ailments. The Association commissioned Dr. A.W. Hoffman, a world renowned chemist, to analyze the flowers contained in the average headdress. Hoffman found that one headdress contained enough arsenic to poison 20 people and a ball gown made from 20 yards of fabric could contain upwards of 900 grains of arsenic. Arsenic was also used in the production of shoes, gloves, wallpaper, and curtains.

Boots ca. 1880.

The fact that the white arsenic used to dye clothes was dirt cheap and alluring to clothiers was attractive and many hundreds of tonnes were used annually in consumer goods. Even small children could purchase it over the counter at any pharmacy. It wasn’t until the passing of the Arsenic Act of 1868 that the amount sold to individuals was regulated, but no limits were imposed on large scale production operations. By the 1880’s , arsenic had been banned from use in the clothing industry, but was still often used in marketing materials and packaging.

Luckily, the move away from arsenic dyed clothing was hastened by the creation of synthetic dyes. Public concern also helped to turn the tide, but the use of arsenic was only banned in Scandinavia, France, and Germany. Britain never banned the practice.

A Tip of the Hat

While women adorned themselves with poisonous foliage and attire, the men of the period also dressed in laced garments. Men’s hats, felted using hare and rabbit fur, were brushed with mercury in order to make the fine hair stick together. Hatters of the time were the hardest hit by exposure. Many experienced neuromotor and psychological problems. Some theorize that the phrase “mad as a hatter” was coined to describe those who suffered from276859b53d5e6f580862b8a7576ce8bf mercury poisoning. Cardio-respiratory problems and tooth loss were common side effects of prolonged mercury exposure, but only the hatters experienced these side effects; The men who purchased the hats were protected by the hat’s inner lining.

The use of mercury in hat making was never explicitly banned in Britain. Rather, hats fell out of fashion in the 1960’s and so the practice died out.

 

Fire Starter

In Victorian England, as well as in other parts of the world during this time period, women swathed themselves in hooped gowns layered with cotton and tulle and moved around spaces lit with candles, oil lamps, and fireplaces. They moved with all the grace of the Hindenburg, so it’s no small wonder that women were often victims of their environment.

In fact, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s wife is said to have caught fire and died from her injuries, she had sustained severe burns, the following day. Apparently a piece 3e42b2b48f24ac18805a3e90fd110e7aof paper had fallen on her gown, causing her to immediately ignite. Longfellow undoubtedly wore a fitted wool suit, common attire for gentlemen of the period, allowing him to move about more safely in his home environment. Bully for him!

Honestly, it’s a wonder anyone survived.

Are you fascinated by these strange practices? Chat us up in the comments and, as always,  don’t forget to like+follow+Tweet+share!

 

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

Janine

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S1 Ep. 3 Available!

Find Episode 3 of Haunt Heads on iTunes, Stitcher, Podcast Addict, Pocket Casts, Podknife, Google Play, iHeartRadio, PodBean, and Blubrry.

S1 Ep.3 A Lupine Dancer is A Steppin’ Wolf OR Sh!t Just Goat Serious

This episode features stories about the Goatman of Kewaskum, WI and The Beast of Bray Road (WI.) Find it at Haunt Heads.podbean.com

New episodes every Monday! 

Have a paranormal or folklore tale to tell? Send it our way and we’ll read it on the show!

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Janine

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Chillingham Castle: Most Haunted?

Chillingham Castle has been featured on many ghost hunting shows. Scariest Places on Earth, Ghost Hunters International, and Holiday Showdown, to name a few, have all taken a turn on the crazy whirligig of fun that is Chillingham. Safe to say, it’s the least chill place on earth.

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Brief History

Located in Chillingham, Northumberland, the castle was the first line of defense preventing Scots from getting over the border to invade England. Originally a monastery in the late 12th century, the structure became a fully fortified castle in 1344 and was the seat of the Grey and Bennet families from the 15th century right up to the 1980’s. If you’ve heard of the Grey monument in Newcastle upon Tyne or savored a mug of Earl Grey tea, you should know that the Grey family has greatly influenced the course of history.

In the 1300’s, The War of the Roses had torn the Grey family apart, their support split between  Yorkists (Edward IV) and Lancastrians (Henry IV). The Lancastrians were the victors and the “winning side” of the family ordered 8 total executions of family members for high treason. They were hanged, drawn, and quartered. Sir Ralph Grey ordered his own son be put to death. The boy was hanged by the neck, cut down while still alive, his intestines were pulled from his abdomen, and he was quartered. His head was put on display at the gate as a warning.

In 1695, the Grey’s acquired the title of Earl of Tankerville, but had no son to to inherit it. (Perhaps if they’d refrained from killing the one they had..?) Lady Mary Grey married Charles Bennet who then inherited the title and brought the Bennet and Grey families together.

The following text read very much like an episode of Downton Abbey, Dowager Countess and all, so I’ll save you that frustration. I’m not saying it’s not valuable information. I’m saying I’d be here all day. Let’s skip ahead…

Structural Renovations

in 1344, King Edward III authorized battlements to be established at Chillingham in order to upgrade the structure into a stronghold and in 1617, after a visit from King James I (first king of England and Scotland), the moat was filled and the battlements were converted into residences. A banquet hall and a library were constructed.

During World War II, Chillingham housed soldiers and became a stronghold once again. Soldiers stripped much of the woodwork from the castle to burn for heat and pieces of a lead roof were removed, causing severe interior damage.

When the property was purchased in 1982 by Sir Humphry Wakefield, Second Baronet, whose wife was descended from the Grey’s of Chillingham, he set about restoring the structure to its former glory and opened sections of the castle to the public for tours.

Hauntings

The current owners of Chillingham market the castle as one of the most haunted places on earth. The structure has been investigated by paranormal investigators and has been featured on numerous television programs.

The most famous ghost, the Blue or, as he’s sometimes called, Radiant Boy is said to haunt the Pink Room. Guests claim a blue halo forms around the head of their bed and loud wailing can be heard. They then see the ghost of the  boy at the foot of the bed. During some of the castles many renovations, the body of a small boy and some scraps of blue fabric were found within a wall that was roughly 10′ thick. Those who found the remains reported that the bones of the fingers had been completely worn down, suggesting that the boy had been walled up alive and had tried to scratch his way out. Visitors to the castle still claim to see the blue light above the bed, but chalk it up to faulty wiring. The owners of the castle assert that there is no wiring in that wall.

ChillinghamBlueBoy

The spirit of Lady Berkeley, the wife of Lord Grey, was reportedly left alone with her daughter at Chillingham after Grey ran off with her sister. The rustle of her dress can sometimes be heard in the corridors as she wanders aimlessly awaiting her husband’s return. Guests also report a chill in the air and the sensation of being touched.

Dungeon

The dungeon at Chillingham was a literal hell on earth. Prisoners would have their legs broken and their limp bodies would be thrown 20′ down into a pit. Many Scottish prisoners were kept in the dungeon and marked their time by scratching it onto the walls. These marks still remain. Prisoners were starved and often had to resort to cannibalism of their fellow prisoners or, if they were truly desperate, began to eat pieces of themselves.

haunted-castles-oubliette

The torture chamber was controlled by John Sage, one of King Edwards best men in battle. Sage was equipped with every kind of torture device imaginable and used each with pleasure. It is said that Sage tortured men, women, and children at the rate of 50 people per week for over three years.

When the war ended, Sage realized he had amassed a large number of prisoners and, in order to be rid of them, he had them all brought to the Edward Room. Men and women were separated from children and brought to the courtyard where they were burned alive. The children, locked in the Edward room and awaiting their own fate, watched with horror. Once Sage finished with the adults, he took an ax and butchered the children. Guests who stay in the Edward Room report a strong smell of blood and the ax used in the massacre is on display in one of Chillingham’s stairwells.

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Eventually, Sage got what was coming to him. A tribal leader had Sage tortured because he had supposedly killed the man’s daughter. Sage was strung up by his neck and his body was mutilated. His nose, testicles, and toes were cut off and he was left to die of his injuries. Locals who witnessed the event took pieces of Sage as souvenirs.

Over the years, many skeletal remains have been found inside the walls, in hidden rooms, in crawlspaces, and in sections of the castle that have been walled up for decades. Two bodies, a man and a boy,  have even been found within an old stone vault that had been walled up. There is no identification for these remains.

With all the dark history surrounding Chillingham, it is no wonder that the place is so active. Visitors report a feeling of overwhelming sadness hanging over the entire location and it is a rare occurrence to leave Chillingham unchanged by the experience. Visitors report their hair being pulled, being scratched and bitten by the unseen, and being touched by disembodied hands. Cold spots are often felt and orbs are often seen.

Hundreds of recordings and photographs stand as a testament to the activity at Chillingham Castle. It seems as if it will never outlive its past and is doomed to forever be a gateway for the horrors of the past.

Have you ever visited Chillingham Castle? Leave us a note in the comments.

Your Fellow Haunt Head,

Janine

Hauntheadscast@gmail.com

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