Awesome or Off-Putting is a weekly delve into cryptozoology, ufology, medical marvels, scientific wonders, secret societies, government conspiracies, cults, ghosts, myths, religion, strange facts or just the plain unexplainable.
This week: Myths
Spring Heeled Jack is a man whose sightings were first reported in or around 1837 London – his was a terror that equaled or surpassed that of even Jack the Ripper. He reportedly had the ability to jump incredibly high, had metallic claws, and eyes that resembled red balls of fire. Sightings of him were reported as recently as 1986.
Spring Heeled Jack is a mythological man with uncanny jumping ability. The sightings of him were taken so seriously that thousands of volunteers at a time would organise into hunting parties with the sole intent of tracking him down. Witnesses were usually left without serious detriment, but some injuries were reported. A murder was attributed to him once – he's supposed to have breathed fire into the face of a 13-year-old prostitute, and then thrown her body over a bridge. Her body was recovered, and the locals branded Jack a killer.
There were reports of a high-jumping man in England as far back as 1808, but the first somewhat-concrete sighting of him came in London in 1837. A businessman was walking home late near a cemetery when a man jumped with ease over the high graveyard gates. Jack is said to have landed right in the man's path – but didn't do anything to him. In his report, the man said Jack – as he would soon be called – had a pointed nose and ears, and large protruding glowing eyes.
Not long after that sighting, Jack is reported to have jumped in the path of a moving carriage. The driver swerved to miss him, and was badly injured in the ensuing crash. Jack escaped by leaping over a nine-foot wall, cackling and babbling in a high-pitched voice as he escaped. Other reports show Jack as having a taste for the ladies, ripping blouses, kissing faces, and leaving deep scratch marks on their bodies. The Jack reports were taken very seriously, in fact they were even addressed directly by Sir John Cowan, Lord Mayor of London, he read from an anonymous citizen's complaint:
"It appears that some individuals (of, as the writer believes, the highest ranks of life) have laid a wager with a mischievous and foolhardy companion, that he durst not take upon himself the task of visiting many of the villages near London in three different disguises — a ghost, a bear, and a devil; and moreover, that he will not enter a gentleman's gardens for the purpose of alarming the inmates of the house. The wager has, however, been accepted, and the unmanly villain has succeeded in depriving seven ladies of their senses, two of whom are not likely to recover, but to become burdens to their families. At one house the man rang the bell, and on the servant coming to open door, this worse than brute stood in no less dreadful figure than a spectre clad most perfectly. The consequence was that the poor girl immediately swooned, and has never from that moment been in her senses. The affair has now been going on for some time, and, strange to say, the papers are still silent on the subject. The writer has reason to believe that they have the whole history at their finger-ends but, through interested motives, are induced to remain silent."
The boldness of Jack's attacks escalated with time. 18-year-old Jane Alsop opened her family's door one February night to find a strangely-clad man there asking her for a lamp. The man claimed to be a police officer who had just assisted in the capture of Spring Heeled Jack. He then attacked the woman, tearing at her clothes and hair until her screams brought her family to the rescue. The woman later described her attacker to police:
"He was wearing a kind of helmet, and a tight fitting white costume like an oilskin. His face was hideous; his eyes were like balls of fire. His hands had claws of some metallic substance, and he vomited blue and white flames."
Jack was reported in that garb often – the helmet, the tight white outfit, the metal claws… his terror swept through all of England. And America. In 1953. Kind of – this sighting doesn't fit his M.O. at all. On June 18, 1953 in Houston, Texas, two witnesses saw a man – generally attributed as being Spring Heeled Jack – in an apartment building's Pecan tree. He's said to have been wearing a 'black cape, skin-tight pants, and quarter-length boots, and grey or black tight-fitting clothes.'
Jack has even been reported as recently as 1986. Back in the UK, a travelling salesman was walking near the Welsh border when he had his encounter. A man, leapt in gigantic, seemingly impossible bounds past him, slapping the salesman's cheek as he leapt on by. In this sighting, Jack was reported as wearing a black ski suit, and had an elongated chin.
Obviously the true identity of Spring Heeled Jack has never been discovered, but there are several theories as to it. Some attribute Jack to being nothing more than a practical joker with literal springs in his boots (hence his name), while others take a more paranormal route. A stranded extraterrestrial is a pretty common theory. Other guesses include a summoned demon, or a visitor who was (intentionally or not) sucked through a worm hole into our dimension.
Who was Jack – or what was Jack? Nobody will ever really know. It's just as well – finding out might kill all the fun.
[story by Shawn Lindseth]