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

hauntheadscast@gmail.com

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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

hauntheadscast@gmail.com

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