Was Spring Heeled Jack Who Terrorised England a Man or Ghost Story
The terror of Victorian England
Spring-Heeled Jack was a legendary character from Victorian England. He was considered the terror of the nineteenth century. Many questions have been asked about whether this menace was a man or the devil in disguise.
Rural sightings of Spring Heeled Jack
The first mention of him occurred in 1837. Mary Stevens was walking through Barnes Common when a creature came leaping towards her. He scratched her with his long claws and then jumped away. Various other sightings were reported, such as barmaid Polly Adams who was attacked by a creature matching Jack’s description in January 1838.
However, all of these sightings were in rural areas; it was not until February 1838 that Jack went into the city. We have some of the best evidence of his existence through these subsequent two attacks. As well as a description of what he looked like.
Jane Alsop was at home with her family when a knock at her door alerted her. A man shouted that he had caught Spring-Heeled Jack and needed immediate help. Alsop opened the door, only to be attacked herself. A cloaked figure jumped into the hall, where he breathed blue fire into her face. He then preceded in ripping at her clothes and face with metal claws. Alerted to the sounds of a struggle, Alsop’s sister beat the stranger off. Spring-Heeled Jack ran off.
He was wearing a kind of helmet and a tight fitting white costume like an oilskin and he vomited blue and white flames!
Thomas Millbank was found and tried for the offence against Alsop, but as she insisted the perpetrator breathed fire, the case was dismissed without charge.
Lucy Scales was the next significant victim. She was eighteen and a butchers daughter when she was attacked at Limehouse, days after Alsop. Scales was walking with her sister when a shadowy man jumped out at her and blew a blue flame into her face. The attack caused a seizure and the man ran off.
The public panic was so extreme that married men would go out armed, hunting the creature. Finally, the Lord Mayor of London, John Cowen, stated that everything was being done to find this creature.
In the 1850s — 60s, there were many sightings across the United Kingdom, especially in the Midlands. In 1870 a Lincoln man claimed to have shot Jack, who then got up and danced away. Traps were also set for him in 1870 by the army. A sentry in Aldershot reported a creature jumping on the roof of his box during one encounter.
Who was Spring Heeled Jack?
Despite many sightings, all of the victims had the same characteristics. They were all young women. They all described the creature as a young man in tight-fitting clothes with red eyes and claws for hands. Many unsolved crimes ended up being attributed to this legendary figure. The mystery was further heightened when the media, in its infant stages, used his legend to sell more papers.
One suspect was suggested as a likely perpetrator: the eccentric young Marquis of Waterford. However, the suspect was soon eliminated as the young Marquis, although insane, was not considered vicious or violent.
As more of these sightings occurred, more superhuman traits were assigned to him, such as jumping over buildings as the stories grew in fantasy, so the terror of this unknown assailant lessened. Finally, he became little more than a bogeyman that parents used to scare their kids.
As described by historian Mike Dash’s exhaustive history of the figure’s reported appearances,
residents of a London neighbourhood began to report bizarre attacks — really more like harassments — from “a ‘ghost, imp or devil’ in the shape of a large white bull
The legend continues
The last known sighting of Spring Heeled Jack was in 1904 in Everton, Liverpool. He was said to have been seen bounding over the cobbles.
For sixty years, the devil-like figure had terrified a nation. Was he a demon or an agile human in a costume?
Could Spring-Heeled Jack be explained as something as simple as mass hysteria, an urban legend that got out of control or a ghost story? Little was ever proven.
Spring Heeled Jack remains a mythical figure, immortalised through plays and literature such as steampunk and comics.