Spring-Heeled Jack: the Scourge of London
Spring-Heeled Jack, 19th Century [Larger version here]
Reports of an unknown leaping figure began in south-west London in 1837; the descriptions of the strange character made it out to be a man in a shiny suit with helmet and cloak, fiery eyes, hands like iron claws, and the ability to spit flames. "Devil-like" was the only description given of the strange figure that escaped with incredible leaps and bounds after attacking Polly Adams, a farmer’s daughter who worked in a south London Pub; the same description was given of the assailant of another woman in Clapham churchyard. But it wasn’t until early in 1838 that the rumors were terrifyingly confirmed.
In January 1838, the Lord Mayor, Sir John Cowan, drew public attention to a letter he had received from a resident of Peckham giving details of an attack by the so-called "Spring-Heeled Jack." This public acknowledgement of the rumors by the Lord Mayor immediately led to a flood of letters from individuals who had been too frightened and embarrassed to report their own encounters previously.
On a February night of the same year, Jane Alsop, who lived with her father and two sisters, was assaulted by a devilish -- some say alien -- being who spat blue and white flames at her and scratched and tore at her with iron claws, only to leap away into the darkness when one of her sisters called for help. Less than a month later, Lucy Scales and her sister met Jack as they walked home through Green Dragon Alley in Limehouse. A tall, cloaked figure leaped from the shadows and belched blue flames into Lucy’s face, blinding her and causing her to collapse. As her sister attempted to help, the cloaked figure walked quietly away.
Sightings and encounters of Spring-Heeled Jack were reported off and on for more than sixty-six years. He was seen scaling the spire of a London church, leaping away into the darkness after a short time. Rumors spread of him also being seen on the Tower of London. Jack was sighted all over England through the 1850’s and 1860’s (especially in the Midlands). In the 1860’s, according to one report, the villain had been cornered by a mob only to escape by jumping a hedge in one bound. Parents kept their children off the streets for fear of the bouncing terror. In 1877, army authorities set traps for him after he slapped sentries with his icy hands and jumped atop their guard boxes; one sentry reported that he was sure he had shot Jack dead center in the body... but Jack showed no signs of noticing it as he leaped away. On another night in 1877, angry townspeople also tried to shoot him, to no avail. The last time Jack was definitely seen was in Liverpool in September 1904, where he was jumping from street to rooftops and back again. When some brave citizens tried to corner him, he simply leaped away into the darkness.
Some say that sightings of Spring-Heeled Jack continued until after World War II, but these reports are unconfirmable.
If only it were that simple...
Above is the legend as Spring-Heeled Jack as it is usually told, though the incidents that get mentioned do vary quite a bit from author to author.
For those of you new to the topic of Spring-Heeled Jack, just be aware that many, many things have been written about him; enough so that it is not entirely easy to understand and explain exactly how much the story has grown over time. When Spring-Heeled Jack first appeared in 1838, he was assumed to be a person (or group of people) utilizing costumes to alarm and startle victims. Over time, however, this idea was replaced by a more supernatural one that envisioned Jack as a sort of devil that was amused to torment people... and, in the 20th century, Jack was eventually presented as a possible alien from space trapped on Earth. To make matters worse, some authors started to create new "reported incidents" to either spice up a book or support a pet theory; so there is a large amount of completely false stories about Spring-Heeled Jack as well!
Despite the confusion around this topic, some of the accounts attributed to the being dubbed Spring-Heeled Jack are truely astounding and forever of interest; and speculation about his identity, motives, and possibly supernatural nature continues to be discussed. Below you will find a chronological list of reported encounters with Spring-Heeled Jack: see what you can make of it.