Spring-Heeled Jack first leapt out of the shadows and into the mysteries and romance of London, in the Autumn of 1837. Rumours spread around about a strange and terrifying creature who could leap hedges and rooftops and breathe fire from his mouth, but few people took them seriously - at first!
However, the rumours persisted of how this "demon" attacked people - mostly young women. It would seem that he would hide himself behind walls or hedges and leap out on unsuspecting travellers. Usually he would tear their clothes with the long claws on his hands, and breathe flames into the victims' faces. Then, with his victims still in a state of shock , he would bound away in huge, leaping strides which covered great distances at each step.
The thing about this devil/man which most stuck out in the minds of the victims were his terrible, protruding, hell-like eyes, and his hideous ringing laughter, which echoed in their minds for days afterwards. Concerned citizens formed vigilante groups to try and track down the monster , and at one point the Duke of Wellington was involved setting out on horseback every night with his pistols to try and bring Spring-Heeled Jack to justice.
It was no use. Jack continued his reign of terror.
His ability to leap over high obstacles made him extremely difficult to catch. He had also added the act of terrifying coach-drivers to his list of other activities. The attacks reached a climax when, in the winter of 1838, he moved his activities into the city of London itself.
The first of these London attacks took place on a dark February night. Lucy Scales was walking home with her sister from their brother's house along a lonely street in the Limehouse district. As they passed Green Dragon Alley a tall cloaked figure bounded out of the shadows at them. He spat blue flames into Lucy's face, blinding her. As she lay writhing on the ground, Spring-Heeled Jack calmly turned around and melted back into the shadows.
Panic spread over the city of London. Up until now, his activities had been centred around the surrounding towns and villages along the Thames. Word spread quickly: Spring-Heeled Jack was on the prowl in London itself!!
He struck again a few nights later. The Alsop family was spending a quiet evening at home, when a violent knocking was heard at the front door. Jane Alsop got up to answer it. When she opened the door she saw a man standing in the shadows near the front gate. He swung around. "I'm a police officer," he said. "For God's sake, bring me a light, for we have caught Spring-Heeled Jack in the lane!"
As Jane ran to fetch a candle, she thought how exciting it would be to see Jack arrested. When she gave the candle to the man at the gate, she realized she had made a terrible mistake, for the man held the candle up before him and revealed the hideous features of Jack himself! Jane screamed as he spewed forth a huge amount of flame from his mouth. He then grabbed her and tore at her clothes with his sharp claws.
She tried to get away, but the Jack grabbed her again her and continued his attack. Hearing her screams, the whole family ran to her assistance, but Jack bounded away down the road, and was soon lost to sight.
Jane described her inhuman attacker to the police, saying that he wore a tight oilskin suit, and a kind of close-fitting helmet on his head. Jack is often shown in pictures as having devils horns and sharp claws.
Jack made a similar attempt a few nights later at another residence, but a servant boy realized who he was and began yelling for help. Jack escaped again, this time thwarted.
Throughout the 19th century, Spring-Heeled Jack was sighted all over England. After a brief period of inactivity he was seen time and time again in the 1840's and 50's. He frightened army sentries in the 1870's, by darting out of the darkness and slapping their faces with a cold, clammy hand before leaping onto the roofs of their sentry boxes. Angry townspeople shot at him in the streets one night in 1877. As usual, he laughed and melted away into the blackness.
Jack was last seen in 1904 in Liverpool. There, he terrified people by bounding up and down the streets and onto their rooftops. When attempts were made to corner him, he just disappeared. This was the last reported sighting.
It is thought that the original ( there were probably copycats) Spring-Heeled Jack was an Irish nobleman, The Marquis of Waterford, who was renowned for his sadistic taste in practical jokes, and his scorn for women.
It is believed that Waterford's idea for the character of Jack was conceived due to a humiliating experience with a woman. Waterford thought up the idea of Jack as a prank and to get revenge in general. Waterford had friends who studied mechanics and it is possible they could have helped him invent special boots with powerful springs in the heels to help him scale heights and that he learned the art and technique of "fire-eating." Waterford was known to have strangely protuberant eyes, which matched the descriptions of Jack. He was also in the area when many of the attacks occurred. As a final piece of evidence, the servant boy who scared Jack away saw a crest with the letter "W" on the man's cloak.
Demon or man? The truth can never been known for sure. Jack disappears into history and myth but I remember as a little girl, if somebody knocked on our door at night, my Father would say "that is probably Spring-heeled Jack!" so I was raised on tales of this demonic creature, whom, thankfully, I never saw!
P.S. I, at last, managed to import all of the old Jeannette's Jottings in this new one all my entries since 2004 are here, well I hope they are all here. Strange thing, I already had three comments on this posting today. After I had imported, they had completely disappeared!