In the long, varied, history of the paranormal there have been a wide menagerie of strange creatures and humanoids sighted. From hairy dwarves to “michelin men” and just about everything in between. Picking a favorite is sometimes difficult to do, though there is one character which captures my imagination above the rest; Spring-Heeled Jack. There is just something about a man leaping around Victorian England and, in some accounts breathing fire, frightening people, apparently for no reason.
In Unexplained!, Jerome Clark gives the reader an overview of how this whole “Spring-Heeled Jack” thing began:
The figure’s presence was first noted in September 1837, when he assaulted four separate persons, three of them women, at locations in and around London. In one instance he allegedly ripped off the top of victim Polly Adams’s dress, scratching her belly with fingers that felt as if they were made of iron.
What made these incidents different from conventional sexual crimes was the attacker’s appearance. He was tall, thin, and powerful, wore a cloak, and had fiery eyes. On occasion, it was said, he spat blue flames from his mouth and into victims’ face. He also could effect enormous leaps that enabled him to move with such rapidity that it was impossible to escape or catch him.
The attacks by this entity continued with a rampant frequency which eventually led to Sir John Cowan, London’s Lord Mayor, declaring him a public menace. Groups of vigilantes gathered in order to hunt Jack down. Jack had other plans as he evidently eluded the would be captors with his signature leaping or jumping capabilities. In fact, Jack continued his bizarre attacks undeterred. The accounts of his nightly attacks were recorded in many newspapers of the time. Clark reproduces one such attack, calling it a pretty standard one, Unexplained!. The attack occurred on February 28 in a district of London called Limehouse, it was written up in the London Morning Chronicle on March 8. From the article:
Miss [Lucy] Scales stated that…. at about half-past eight o’clock, as she and her sister were returning from the house of their brother, and while passing along Green Dragon-alley, they observed some person standing in an angle in the passage. She was in advance of her sister at the time, and just as she came up to the person, who was enveloped in a large cloak, he spirited a quantity of blue flame right in her face, which deprived her of sight.
They were close enough to the brother’s house that he was able to hear their screams and went out to investigate. Once he had safely escorted his sister’s home, the brother asked the other sister for a description of their attacker. The sister stated the following:
She described the person to be of tall, thin, and gentlemanly appearance, enveloped in a large cloak, and carrying in front of his person a small lamp, or bull’s eye, similar to those in the possession of the police. [As] her sister …. [came] up to the person, he threw open his cloak, exhibited the ;lamp, and puffed a quantity of flame from his mouth into the face of her sister
Throughout his reign of terror, it seems that the police were convinced that they were looking for a human perpetrator of these crimes. Though in my mind the feats are, if not paranormal or non-human, exhibit capabilities that I’ve not found in people. If the reports are to be believed, this figure was jumping some 9 or 10 ft fences. That’s quite a feat.
Whoever, or whatever, Jack may have been. he was never apprehended by the authorities. For all we know he leapt back into whatever strange dimension he escaped from. Although that’s not quite the end of our story, as a figure who shared many of the same characteristics as our man Jack has shown up in other parts of the world since he first arrived on the scene in the late 19th century London. Theo Paijmans back in Oct of 2013 wrote an article for Mysterious Universe which was entitled, “Spring-Heeled Jack in America”. Rather than reprinting the cases which he pointed out, I will instead implore readers to read the article yourself and check out the exhaustive work Paijmans did in exploring the apparent leaping, pardon the pun, of the entity called Spring-Heeled Jack from London to the United States.
While I was researching for this post, I came across another encounter with a figure which sounded very similar to Spring-Heeled Jack, only this time it was back in London. Writing for allvoices.com, Lee Walker shares a story which was related to her from a man named Steven Gee. Walker writes:
A very close friend of mine by the name of Stevie Gee, (who we'll be meeting again a bit later on in this issue, in connection with a UFO sighting in the skies above New Ferry), recently reminded me of a frightening childhood encounter with a mysterious entity near to his former home on Bromborough Road, Merseyside, an incident, which though it occurred over a quarter of a century ago now, he still recalls with near-perfect clarity.
'One bitterly cold winter's evening back in 1975, when I was 11 years old, I raced outside straight after tea in the company of my sister, Pam, who is two years older than me, eager to meet up with a group of mutual friends at our usual hang-out, the line of garages situated at the back of our road. One of these friends was actually a near-neighbour, named Robbie Lyons, who was the same age as Pam, and who, I suppose it's fair to say, I regarded with something akin to admiration, not least because he attended 'The Big School', something that had always commanded wide-eyed respect amongst kids my age, due to him having successfully made the transition from the comparatively carefree, halcyon days of life at Church Drive Primary and Junior Schools, to spending five days a week at the towering Victorian monstrosity that was Bebington Secondary – where, according to local, pre-teen folklore, all manner of dreadful horrors lay in wait ready to pounce the second you stepped through the wrought-iron, rusted gates.
Robbie was, therefore living proof that those brave enough to rise to life's challenges could, like a knight in shining armour on a holy quest, or a hero of ancient Greece, set an impossible task for the cruel amusement of Olympian Gods, not only survive the ordeal in one piece, but emerge all the stronger for having done so…...
I remember Pam and I chose to secrete ourselves behind the back of the garage where my Dad kept his pride and joy; a metallic-brown Hillman Avenger. ….
there we were, my sister and I, crouched low behind the walls of the garage, trying desperately to keep our teeth from chattering, and cupping our hands to prevent the plumes of smoky breath giving us away. when Pam suddenly whispered harshly; 'Steve, what's that up there on the garage roof?'
A strange, dark figure was crouching on the roof of the garage directly above us, and although I couldn't make out any facial features at first, (the bright winter moon was directly behind it, rendering it little more than a cartoon silhouette), still I instinctively knew it was staring intently at us, and I felt what I can only describe as overwhelming malice, radiating from the form in near-visible waves.
And then, as we watched, paralysed with fear, unable even to cry out for help, the figure slowly rose to its full height, with its arms outstretched as if in supplication to the to cruel, diamond-chipped void above.
Eventually Steve and Pam would run for their lives and accidentally bumped in Robbie Lyons. Near breathless, the pair informed Robbie of what they had just witnessed. Walker continues:
Ever the brave, stoic defender of those in mortal danger (although I think his motivations were probably more along the lines of 'the eternally horny protector of the damsel in distress,' given Pam's presence), Robbie took us at our word and raced towards the garages, whilst Pam and I waited anxiously for news in the warmth and safety of our parent's living room.
We didn't have to wait too long.
A couple of minutes later, there was a frantic rapping at the front door, and I opened it to find Robbie standing there, his pale face and the look of wild fear apparent in his eyes, enough to confirm that he had likely encountered the same thing we had.
'He was thuh-thuh-there, juh-juh-just like you said,' he stammered, (and whether it was due to the bone-freezing temperatures or abject terror, it's difficult to say). 'I saw him, all dressed in buh-buh-black, standing on the garage roof..'
'But that wasn't the worst of it,' he added quickly, swallowing a click in his throat. 'As I got near to the figure, it suddenly looked at me over its shoulder, and then, Christ Almighty, it just leaped high into the air and landed on another garage roof, about thirty feet further along. And then in did the same again. And again. And again until it cleared the entire row of garages and jumped onto the roof of one of the houses on Ellen's Lane, and I lost sight of him. I've never seen anything like it. And I hope to God I never do again!'
Be sure to go read the full article here, as I think it’s well worth taking a look at. So, what in the world was, or is, Spring-Heeled Jack? Could it have been a prankster or joker playing a tricky, albeit a cruel one, on folks? If so, not only were they fairly athletic, they also traveled around the world and waited a good number of years before showing up again. I don’t rule out that a bit of hysteria could have played a part in some of the reports and sightings, but taken together they make for an interesting entry in the history of fortean creatures.