Superstition is a really cool thing to me. A lot of people regard superstition as a flaw of our species. I happen to think that it’s awesome. It tends to create, spread and perpetuate some of mankind’s greatest mythologies and that sort of thing is important. Though, I have an appreciation for the big mythologies of the world, I love the sort of shit that spawns in much smaller communities. It tends to be weirder. It begins as a single kernel of truth and then flowers into something really fucking bizarre. Case in point: Spring Heeled Jack.
It began in 1837, London. A businessman in town returns home late from work and is stunned when suddenly a man leaps over a high cemetery fence with ease. His description of the man is frightening. He’s huge with devilish features, pointed ears and nose and a pair of eyes that glowed like coals. Later, a servant girl walking to work is attacked by a fiendish man who immobilizes her with his arms, alone, and attempts to rape her. She described his touch as freezing, his hands clammy, as though the flesh were dead. Her screaming caused her attacker to break off and leap away, high in the air.
Later, a pair of teenage girls reported a similar attack. Jack arrives on Jane Alsop’s doorstep in February of 1838 claiming to be a police officer. He says that they have captured Spring Heeled Jack and need a light. When she returns with a candle, the officer throws off his cloak to reveal the same fiendish appearance described by others. Only this time, Jack belches a plume of blue and white flame. He seems to be wearing some kind of helmet and his hands are descibed as claws; sharp fingertips made of some kind of metal. He used these to shred her clothing and after she manages to escape, he runs her down and tears her neck and arms. 8 days later, Lucy Scales reported walking with her sister behind a man in a cloak. When he stopped and they kept walking to pass, he suddenly turns on them and breathes the same sort of blue fire into their faces.
It took no time for the legend of Spring Heeled Jack to spread. He became the subject of plays around the city at the time and was typically the villain in the popular penny dreadfuls sold around England. Sightings of Jack, a London phenomenon, spread to Liverpool, Aldershot and Lincolnshire, popping out of nowhere and either attempting to or successfully raping women and simply slapping dudes in the face. The disparity there is a little weird. Jack was said to have attacked British soldiers by walking up to their barracks and slapping the guards in the face. The guards naturally fired on Jack but the shots were said to have done nothing.
Mostly, Jack attacks were acts of terror with harm being a minor quality of the crime and shortly after the initial sightings, Jack disappeared from the public consciousness. It wasn’t until 1845 when he suddenly reappeared throughout the London slums when he was witnessed terrorizing a prostitute there. He was seen burning her face with his flame breath before effortlessly lifting her over his head and throwing her into the open sewer below where she drowned in London’s collective filth.
These strange attacks continued throughout the 19th century until the legend died a slow, unceremonious death in 1904 when the last sighting of Jack was reported. During this time in London, actual criminals took to the streets dressed as Jack, wearing outrageous tight fitting clothes to mimic his appearance while they ran wild committing burglaries and murders. Jack became the ultimate icon of mass hysteria throughout the world. London was petrified. Of course, no Jack was ever captured that matched the real descriptions and none of the imposters could jump like he could. Back then, rational authorities blamed Jack on young aristocracy playing tricks on the peasants and commoners while the not-so-rational claimed that if he wasn’t the devil, himself, he was at least some kind of demon, let loose on the Earth by occultists. Others believed him to be some sort of malicious fairy-being, here to simply raise hell because that’s usually what malicious fairy-beings do. These days, wacky theorists claim that Jack was some kind of alien whose biology supported glowing eyes and a high gravity environment made it so that he could leap around in our atmosphere like it was nothing.
No Spring Heeled Jack was ever caught and he falls into the Fortean category of ‘Phantom Attackers’ like The Mad Gasser of Matoon or the Phantom Clown attacks of 1981.