Throughout the 19th century Britain was (supposedly) terrorised by a monstrous man/creature nicknamed Spring-heeled Jack. A nickname given due to the inane ability to jump from building to building and clear fences in a single bound.
When looking at the evidence of such a phenomena (history is littered with stories of the paranormal) it is extremely difficult to separate fact from fiction. Was there a man/demon/creature running about the boroughs of London and Liverpool terrorising young women? Maybe. Maybe not. But what is certain was there was a kind of mass hysteria around the time that these bizarre events were happening.
The first recorded sighting was in 1837 when a young girl named Mary Stevens was walking to her place of employment in the south of London. A ‘man’ jumped out from a dark alley and grabbed the young woman. He ripped her clothes off with his ‘claws’ and was forcefully kissing the girls face. After a brief struggle Spring-heeled Jack made a swift getaway. The following day Jack was at it again, launching himself in front of a carriage, causing an accident. Jack was then said to have leaped over a 9ft wall whilst laughing hysterically.
However, it wasn’t until the Mayor of London received a letter from a ‘resident of Peckham’ that the real hysteria took hold. In the letter the person claims that this “unmanly villain has succeeded in depriving seven ladies from their senses, two of whom are not likely to recover, but to become burdens to their families” . After this letter Jack received some main stream attention, appearing in newspaper articles as his attacks seemed to get more audacious. He would even resort to door knocking where invariably a young woman would answer the door and be exposed to Jack’s hideous face. Jack would be dressed in a large overcoat, was tall, thin and had a grotesque face. He was said to have fiery red eyes and sharp teeth.
In a weird twist to the Spring-heeled Jack phenomena he almost became like a hero. He was the subject of plays and stories (particularly penny-dreadfuls – a cheap story printed on cheap paper – similar to comic books) and would be looked at with a little more affection than horror. The attacks would continue but inevitably slow down before the last reported sighting of Spring-heeled Jack occurred in Liverpool around 1904.
There is much conjecture about Spring-heeled Jack and what he was. Most historians believe it is a case of mass hysteria. One incident leads to another (maybe just some pranksters) and before you know it you have a demon like creature terrorising the streets. Some however give it up more paranormal backstory, this was after all an era of ghouls and ghosts (the last remnants of the Victorian Age). Interestingly enough the story reminded me of another so called creature that was terrorising New Dehli (India) some 100 years after the last reported sighting of Spring-heeled Jack. I remember seeing this story on the news as a teenager and freaking out at the possibility of something like this wreaking havoc in a suburban setting. Like Jack, these sightings would eventually peter out to nothing and in all likelihood it was nothing more than a deformed monkey.
Whatever Jack was or wasn’t the story is fascinating. Was there was a demon like man assaulting young women who had springs in his feet or is it just a perfect example of how mass hysteria can engulf a suburb, city and then eventually a nation? Either way interesting to think about.