Mythical Monday: Spring Heel Jack by Mae Clair

light in the nightFor today’s Mythical Monday, I’m visiting an era steeped in gas lanterns, cobbled streets, carriages, and gentleman callers in top hats.

Enter Spring Heel Jack, a macabre phantom who terrorized the English countryside in the 19th century. First sighted in 1837, he gained notoriety during the height of the Victorian era.

This maniacal creature was described as a tall, thin man with powerful bony fingers resembling claws. He favored the appearance of a strolling actor or opera-goer, usually spotted wearing a long flowing cloak. Beneath, his clothes were tight-fitting and of a material that several witnesses said resembled white oil skin.

His name was earned from the springs he attached to his boots which enabled him to leap great distances and hop towering eight-foot high walls. A tall metallic helmet and a small lantern strapped to his chest completed his bizarre outfit. Some reports say he breathed blue and white flame, others that he had a devil appearance and eyes that resembled red balls of fire.

In all instances Jack seemed set on terrorizing those he came in contact with, usually preying on females.

On February 19, 1838, eighteen-year-old Jane Alsop was attacked by Jack when she answered the front door of her home after being summed by the violent ringing of the bell. The man who waited on the threshold demanded a lantern, snapping, “For God’s sake bring me a light for we have caught Spring Heel Jack here in the lane.”

When Jane gave the man a candle, he tossed his cloak aside and applied the flame to his breast, “vomiting forth a quantity of blue and white flame from his mouth.” The man seized Jane and began tearing her dress with claws she reported as being metallic in nature. She managed to get away from him and was later rescued by one of her sisters but suffered scratches to her shoulders and neck. Her assailant even ripped out a length of her hair.

Jack_the_Devil_Penny_Dreadfuls_1838

By Penny Dreadful Newspaper (Penny Dreadful Paper 1838) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Eight days later, eighteen-year-old Lucy Scales and her sister were passing Green Dragon Alley in Old Ford when a man in a large cloak stepped into their path. He squirted blue flame into Lucy’s face, temporarily blinding her. Unable to see, she fell to the ground and was overcome by a violent fit which continued for several hours. Lucy’s sister said their attacker had a gentlemanly appearance, wore a large cloak and carried a small lantern.

Jack made several notable appearances during the 1870s, including one where he was shot at by a soldier on guard duty. The bullets had no effect on him and he disappeared into the darkness with “astonishing bounds.”  As his exploits spread, he became a popular subject for newspapers, “penny dreadfuls” and small theatre.

Despite his infamy, some believe Jack was nothing more than a myth given birth by a culture prone to embrace folklore of faeries and impish creatures. Others believe he was the product of mass hysteria and hallucination. Still others insist there was nothing remotely supernatural about him – that he was a disturbed man with a ghoulish sense of humor.

For a time the Marquis of Waterford, an Irish nobleman was considered a prime suspect. An aristocrat who’d had numerous run-ins with the police for public brawling, he was a heavy drinker known to have a strong contempt for women.

Spring Heel Jack was never caught and remains a fixture of myth. He has appeared in literature, movies, comics and even video games. Whether man, phantom or demon, he has left his mark in everything from archaic legends to pop culture.

Have you heard of Spring Heel Jack?

22 thoughts on “Mythical Monday: Spring Heel Jack by Mae Clair

  1. I have never heard of Spring Heel Jack and after your post, whoever or whatever he is, I don’t want to meet him either…Very creepy to say the least!

    I love Mythical Monday! Keep them coming!

    Like

    • I wouldn’t want to run into Jack either, Debbie, especially not in a dark alley. As much as I love Victorian England, those cobbled streets can be very creepy..

      So glad you enjoy my mythical Monday posts. I never know what I’m going to find when I go on a search for one!

      Like

  2. I never heard of Spring Heel Jack either. It kinda goes to show that dressing up and scaring people has been around for a long time. Reminds me of the time my son’s friend dressed in our werewolf costume and came running into the garage. At first, I couldn’t wrap my mind around what was going on. Then I screamed, and then I laughed. Payback is hell, since I scared my son and the neighbor kids with the mask when they were little. Don’t know what I was thinking, it was really mean and they never let me forget it. Mary Merrell

    Like

    • Omg, Mary, I would have freaked to be confronted in ,y garage by a “werewolf” LOL. After you got past the scream it sounds like everyone had a blast. I can imagine this on America’s Funniest Home Videos. Sounds like you have a fun neighborhood!

      Like

  3. Mae – As Debbie mentioned above, I haven’t heard of Jack either. He actually sounds a bit as if he belongs in a horror movie but I’ll take your word that he’s more mythical in nature. Let’s leave him there, okay. One of the many things I love about London are the endless aray of side streets, not especially well-lit, and the steam rises up from the grates along the sides of the cobblestones as they slope down. I never could figure out how to get to the theatre without passing through a couple of those streets. Glad I didn’t know about Jack then.

    Like

    • Wow, what a great description of London streets, Sheri. Very vivid, as if I were there. You’ve certainly seen some cool things in your travels….fortunately, Jack wasn’t among them!

      Like

  4. I’m going to have to join the crew who’s never heard of Spring Heel Jack… He sounded like a coward who enjoyed preying on those weaker than him….and like maybe he was fairly technologically savvy.

    Like

  5. Nope I never heard of him either. Only Jack of the period was the ripper. Was this jack after or before his better known name sake? Years ago when first got into the poetry groups I did a poem about the ripper – from the victim POV 😀

    Like

    • Spring Heel Jack would have turned up decades before the Ripper, but would have still been active during his spree. Two utterly nefarious characters, although the Ripper was much worse. Another criminal for Sherlock Holmes!

      That must have been an interesting poem, Sue!

      Like

  6. My mind is busy trying to put together a logical explanation for this bizarre story. There are such wonderful possibilities here for a book. I realize he’s been described as a bad guy, but I can’t help but wonder if I think on it long enough could I figure out how to make him a hero… hmmm… 😉

    Like

  7. I am always looking for more info on this story about Spring Heeled Jack and came across your story. I can confirm that Lucy Scales was real, she is a gg aunt. Her brother William Scales was a butcher (my gggrandfather) who lived around the corner from the area where she was attacked. He was the one who heard her screams for help after leaving his house that night.

    Like

    • Hi, Val, it’s wonderful to meet you and have you drop by my blog haunt to share! I’m thrilled to have a descendant of Lucy’s here. I remember reading Lucy and her sister were walking home from their brother’s place when she was attacked. I got chills having you confirm it. What an interesting family history you have! Thanks again for sharing!

      Like

      • You’re welcome! I just wish I could add a bit more to this story, unfortunately its just too far back. I’m sure this would’ve been a fantastic family story for many years!

        Like

I love comments, so please scribble a thought or two!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s