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.
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!
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