The legend of Spring-heeled Jack is founded in the classic Victorian era when gothic and macabre stories were the pubic version of todays television and “penny dreadful” magazines sold in droves.
First reported in October 1837 in London, a girl named Mary Stevens was unfortunate enough to be the victim of the first reported Spring-heeled Jack attack. The figure, cloaked in the darkness of the alley, leapt at her and held her tight in his arms. He started kissing her and shredding her clothes, touching her skin with hands that she described as “cold and clammy as those of a corpse.” The creature ran away without a trace when she screamed in terror.
The next day, the leaping character is said to have chosen a very different victim near Mary Stevens’ home, inaugurating a method that would reappear in later reports: he jumped in the way of a passing carriage, causing the coachman to lose control, crash, and severely injure himself. Several witnesses claimed that he escaped by jumping over a 9 ft (2.7 m) high wall while babbling with a high-pitched, ringing laughter.
Gradually, the news of the strange character spread, and soon the press and the public gave him the name “Spring-heeled Jack”
Jane Alsop reported that on the night of 19 February 1838, she answered the door of her father’s house to a man claiming to be a police officer, who told her to bring a light, claiming “we have caught Spring-heeled Jack here in the lane”. She brought the person a candle, and noticed that he wore a large cloak. The moment she had handed him the candle, however, he threw off the cloak and “presented a most hideous and frightful appearance”, vomiting blue and white flame from his mouth while his eyes resembled “red balls of fire”.
Miss Alsop reported that he wore a large helmet and that his clothing, which appeared to be very tight-fitting, resembled white oilskin. Without saying a word he caught hold of her and began tearing her gown with his claws which she was certain were “of some metallic substance”. She screamed for help, and managed to get away from him and ran towards the house. He caught her on the steps and tore her neck and arms with his claws. She was rescued by one of her sisters, after which her assailant fled.
By the end of the 19th century the reported sightings of Spring-heeled Jack were moving towards the north west of England. Around 1888, in Everton, north Liverpool, he allegedly appeared on the rooftop of Saint Francis Xavier’s Church in Salisbury Street. In 1904 there were reports of appearances in nearby William Henry Street.
Sightings gradually decreased however, and no one was ever caught and identified as Spring-heeled Jack; combined with the extraordinary abilities attributed to him and the very long period during which he was reportedly at large, this has led to numerous and varied theories of his nature and identity.
Was he simply someone playing a macabre prank? Or was Spring-heeled Jack just an Urban Legend? Or something more?