Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Creature Feature #1: Spring Heeled Jack (1837 - 1877)

The urban legend of Spring-Heeled Jack begins in Victorian England in September of 1837. He is described, according to eye-witness accounts, as a tall, very thin "man," powerful, wore a dark cloak, had pointed ears, glowing eyes, a helmet, and spat blue flames at his victims. His most striking feature was that he could escape his captors by leaping at unspeakable bounds.

The first accounts of Spring Heeled Jack were made in London in 1837 and the last reported sighting was in Liverpool in 1904. The first reports of Jack was from a businessman returning home late one night from work, who told of being suddenly shocked as a mysterious figure jumped with ease over the high railings of a cemetery, landing right in his path. No attack was reported, but the submitted description was disturbing: a muscular man with devilish features including large and pointed ears and nose, and protruding, glowing eyes.

Perhaps the best known alleged incidents involving Spring Heeled Jack were the alleged attacks on two teenage girls, Lucy Scales and Jane Alsop. The Alsop report was widely covered by the newspapers, while a single paper covered the Scales report, presumably because Alsop came from a comfortably well-off family and Scales from a family of tradesmen. This coverage by newspapers fuelled the collective hysteria surrounding the case.

In the beginning of the 1870s, Spring Heeled Jack was reported again in several places distant from each other. In November 1872, the News of the World reported that Peckham was "in a state of commotion owing to what is known as the "Peckham Ghost", a mysterious figure, quite alarming in appearance". The editorial pointed out that it was none other than "Spring Heeled Jack, who terrified a past generation". Similar stories were published in the Illustrated Police News. In April and May of 1873, there were numerous sightings of the "Park Ghost" in Sheffield, which locals came to identify as Spring Heeled Jack.

Sceptical investigators have dismissed the stories of Spring Heeled Jack as mass hysteria which developed around various stories of a bogeyman or devil which have been around for centuries, or from exaggerated urban myths about a man who clambered over rooftops claiming that the Devil was chasing him. Other researchers believe that some individual(s) may have been behind its origins, being followed by imitators later on. Spring Heeled Jack was widely considered not to be a supernatural creature but rather one or more persons with a macabre sense of humor. This idea matches the contents of the letter to the Lord Mayor, which accused a group of young aristocrats as the culprits, after an irresponsible wager. A popular rumour circulating as early as 1840 pointed to an Irish nobleman, the Marquess of Waterford, as the main suspect. Haining suggested this may have been due him having previously had bad experiences with women and police officers.

A variety of paranormal explanations have been proposed to explain the origin of Spring Heeled Jack. Such explanations include:

An extraterrestrial entity with a non-human appearance and features, (e.g., retro-reflective red eyes, or phosphorous breath) and a super-human agility deriving from life on a high gravity world, jumping ability. strange behaviour.

A visitor from another dimension, who could have entered into this plane through a wormhole or dimensional gate.

A demon, accidentally or purposefully summoned into this world by practitioners of the occult or who made himself manifest simply to create spiritual turmoil.

Sometimes "Spring Heeled Jack" pops up in literature–sometimes as a villain, sometimes as a hero–perhaps even an early ancestor of modern superheroes.
Bellows, Jason. "Spring Heeled Jack." Damn Interesting. 29 May, 2006. 10 July, 2007. http://www.damninteresting.com/?p=563
Clark, Jerome. Unexplained! 347 Strange Sightings, Incredible Occurences, and Puzzling Physical Phenomena. "Springheel Jack." Visible Ink: Detroit, MI; Washington, D. C.; London. 1993. 357 - 359.
Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. "Spring Heeled Jack." en.wikipedia.org/Spring_Heeled_Jack.

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