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Spring Heeled Jack

Article #191 • Written by Jason Bellows

Spring Heeled Jack
Spring Heeled Jack

Sometimes "Spring Heeled Jack" pops up in literature–sometimes as a villain, sometimes as a hero–perhaps even an early ancestor of modern superheroes. The strange bit is the fact that Spring Heeled Jack is based on real events and a real person from Victorian era England who purportedly leapt over walls and onto rooftops easily, assaulted men, accosted women, blew gouts of flame from his mouth, and always eluded capture while laughing with mad mirth.

The first confirmed sightings of old Spring Heel were in London of September 1837–though there is speculation that he was in action some twenty years previous. A man walking home late one night reported a muscular male with devilishly pointed ears and glowing red eyes had leapt over the tall cemetery fence with ease and landed right in front of him. This witness did not report being attacked or harassed by Jack, making him one of the lucky few.

Shortly later a barmaid named Polly Adams was found laying in the street in a state of semi-undress. She reported that she’d been attacked by a man of the same evil features who has ripped off the top of her blouse, grabbed her naked breasts with his corpse-cold hands, and deeply scratched her belly with his claws.

In October, Mary Stevens reported a man leapt out of the shadows, gripped her tightly and began to kiss her face. She cried out and raised an alarm, but her attacker was never found.

The very next day the character jumped into the road and caused a carriage to run out of control and tip. Witnesses reported that the perpetrator escaped by bounding over a nine-foot wall and laughing all the way. A few days later the sinister figure appeared again, and for the first time the police called to the scene found something of interest: a pair of very deep tracks in the mud that indicated that they had been made from a great height. One of the investigators of the time noted the tracks hinted to some gadgetry on the shoes, and speculated that it might be “some sort of compressed springs”. At the time no one saw fit to make moulds of the prints, but the story got out, and from it the media affixed the name Spring Heeled Jack.

Cover of a Penny Dreadful
Cover of a Penny Dreadful

Sightings of SHJ continued sporadically through England for the next several years. Besides accosting women, slapping men, and generally causing traffic mayhem, somewhere on the way Jack acquired the means to belch blue or white fire.

Many, including the Lord Mayor of London were skeptical, but he did receive and heed a letter stating that a nobleman had taken a wager to take on disguises and try to scare women out of their senses.

Spring Heeled Jack came and vanished from notoriety over the years. His most famous attacks took place in February 1838, and the last confirmed sighting of him was in 1872 when he jumped amidst a squad of soldiers and slapped one soundly. One of the soldiers claimed to have shot Spring Heeled, but other than a hollow, metallic sound like shooting a bucket, all it did was tick SHJ off, and send him to chasing the soldiers with his belches of blue flame. After a few days of bothering the soldiers a mob caught sight of Jack, and laid chase. Though they too claim to have shot him, he never slowed, and jumped right out of the area.

From 1837 to 1872 is a fairly notable career, but more surprising, there have been more recent reports of Spring Heeled Jack, including a spree in Sheffield in the 1970’s, and one in 1986.

So maybe he was a drunken noble out to win a bet, and became a part of folklore. The popular reading of the day was a “Penny Dreadful” which depicted haunting tales, and these publications couldn’t resist. Perhaps they exaggerated Jack’s appearance and traits, perhaps those exaggerations melded with real incidents in people’s minds, leaving history as an amalgam of fiction and truth. Strangely, when Spring Heeled Jack first appeared in literature, he was unwaveringly a villain, but over the years, he has morphed into a heroic icon.

Maybe Jack didn’t have springs in his heels at all–there is a faction who have him pegged as an alien from a high-gravity world. The relatively low gravity on Earth would account for his hopping talents, whereas an extra-terrestrial origin could account for his longevity. I suppose if there were a world with that kind of unforgiving gravity, and the natives all spewed flames, some of them would inevitably seek more hospitable environs.

Who or what Spring Heeled Jack really was are things we may never know. We’ll just have to make due with the dozens of police reports that attest that he has, indeed, haunted the streets of London.

Article written by Jason Bellows, published on 29 May 2006. Jason is a contributing editor for DamnInteresting.com.

Article design and artwork by Alan Bellows. Edited by Alan Bellows.
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37 Comments
Catkilller7
Posted 29 May 2006 at 08:42 pm

The most recent incidents were probably some people who read up on this guy and decided to try and scare some people for fun. Either that or he's a real monster, but I have firm disbelieves in that. Meh, My own opinion.


Nikolaus
Posted 29 May 2006 at 11:52 pm

I finished reading through the entire archives! Sweet! Now I can actually comment and it'll be relevant.


Sylph-DS
Posted 30 May 2006 at 03:42 am

Blue flames, aye? I bet there's some fuel that burns blue, so he could just be like one of them fire breather chaps, but than with a fuel that burns blue.


alias
Posted 30 May 2006 at 09:13 am

alien... hehe... good one...


ynggrsshppr
Posted 30 May 2006 at 09:31 am

Probably just a human/kangaroo hybrid.


Melon Head
Posted 30 May 2006 at 09:58 am

I've got to get me a pair of those shoes.


Johnny Wayne
Posted 30 May 2006 at 10:18 am

it's flubber. just smear some on your shoes man.


dmwit
Posted 30 May 2006 at 12:33 pm

Check out velocity stilts!


lahuard
Posted 30 May 2006 at 01:43 pm

Nikolaus said: "I finished reading through the entire archives! Sweet! Now I can actually comment and it'll be relevant."

What an irrelevent comment. (As was mine).

I think the thing which makes the most sense is that it is just some guy playing a prank. Definatly not something to call up Mulder or Scully about.


lateralus98
Posted 30 May 2006 at 02:23 pm

Propane burns blue...i think.


Stuart
Posted 30 May 2006 at 03:22 pm

My dad's mate made some springed shoes when he was a kid because he wanted to be like Spring Heeled Jack. He jumped off a wall in them and broke his ankle. Not the cleverest of ideas but fun none the less.


Archcroc
Posted 30 May 2006 at 08:53 pm

Wow, those alien theorists are sure going to feel silly when we discover a victorian pneumatic jumping suit in some old woman's attic.


GMan
Posted 30 May 2006 at 11:37 pm

If he was indeed some mutant like or deformed person who's deformity just happened to grant him some super human capabilities, then most likely people would have noticed this from his childhood and then some record of such an anomaly would have been availible. Although, in those days such a thing might rather have been kept secret, and such a child kept from sight and never spoken of in public. In which case it could explain the asocial behaviour of this SHJ person.

I find the article quite amusing, and wonder what other foke lore monsters were based on some real events.


mestebanez
Posted 31 May 2006 at 03:56 am

"Spring Heeled Jack" is one of the featured articles of the day from Wikipedia ( best written und more comprehensive, and shown in the homepage for a whole day). It was a must to here.

His history it's just fantastic and unbeliavable but probable real. We live in a amazing world.


junebee
Posted 31 May 2006 at 03:22 pm

The Feminazis will have a field day with this!


junebee
Posted 31 May 2006 at 03:22 pm

Hey, how'd I get on this screen? I was trying to post on the two eggs no sperm article!


Carcer
Posted 31 May 2006 at 06:34 pm

Between this guy and Mad Jack, England has been homw to two of the greatest men EVER! I sometimes wish I were British. (damned Italian/Irish blood)


AKALucifer
Posted 01 June 2006 at 06:45 am

Sounds like this guy was the first parkour pactitioner.


AKALucifer
Posted 01 June 2006 at 06:46 am

Sorry I meant practitioner


Sen.McCarthy
Posted 02 June 2006 at 12:01 am

I envy that man and his spring shoes!


white_matter
Posted 05 June 2006 at 12:26 am

I have this theory, more of a phobia I guess, that one day in the future I will be hurled back in the past and have to fend for myself in more primative environs (18th century, 15th century, whatever). That's why I spend and lot of my free time asking, how do I make gun powder? How would I make a water purifier from scratch? How could I produce electricity? ect.

I think that things like this are just assholes with time machines.

You can't prove it won't happen.


Brennan
Posted 08 June 2006 at 05:37 am

I am struck by the similarities between accounts of Spring Heeled Jack and certain other cryptic figures. In particular, 'Mothman' from the USA, who also was reported to leap or fly at inhuman speeds and distances, 'Black Shuck', also from the British Isles (a monstrous shape-shifting hound who also belched flames and smoke), and a strange 'monkey man' who terrorised the streets of Delhi a few years ago. Most of these hairy leaping 'creatures' (Jack included) have also been reported as being headless, or neckless, having glowing, usually red eyes and there are frequent mentions of metal parts such as helmets and claw-like gloves.

I'm somewhat reminded of the fire-breathing 'dragon' in Dr. No, a painted tank designed to scare off the ignorant locals of Jamaica. If a mad scientist wanted to experiment with some kind of 'shagpile strap-on night-vision leaping apparatus' he might well benefit from a certain amount of supernatural disinformation. Then again, he might not appreciate they extra attention.

Wearing my 'fortean' hat (or helmet) I am not going to argue about whether Spring Heeled Jack 'really' existed or not, but the similarities between these different accounts, and the fact that they are reported in different continents over such an extended time period is noteworthy. I'll leave any speculation to what is 'really' going on up to the the believers (and skeptics are believers too, they just believe something else).

As for time-travel: Genetic research on humans is restricted by all manner of ethical boundaries, which don't exist when monkeys are used. I expect the same restrictions will apply to practical experiments in time travel. I wonder whether the scientists of the future will create super-intelligent monkeys and send them back to our time? Monkeys are excellent leapers.


resmc
Posted 10 June 2006 at 03:24 pm

Is it just me, or does that first picture remind you of batman?


vision master
Posted 21 June 2006 at 06:37 pm

resmc said: "Is it just me, or does that first picture remind you of batman?"

yeah I was thinking that when i saw that picture.


vision master
Posted 21 June 2006 at 06:41 pm

white_matter said: "I have this theory, more of a phobia I guess, that one day in the future I will be hurled back in the past and have to fend for myself in more primative environs (18th century, 15th century, whatever). That's why I spend and lot of my free time asking, how do I make gun powder? How would I make a water purifier from scratch? How could I produce electricity? ect.

I think that things like this are just assholes with time machines.

You can't prove it won't happen."

yeah i always feel like i might be hurled back in time one day. that's why i always carry a suitcase with my stuff in around.


thathybridguy
Posted 17 August 2006 at 05:12 pm

you never know. someone out there might have been just mentally crazy and liked to terrorize people


disasterzone
Posted 13 February 2007 at 06:42 am

Hmm...I wonder if his kids would be all...springy too.

Yeah that picture does look like Batman.
Maybe they're related.

Uhm. I'm pretty damn jealous of his springy shoes, eh?


conspiracy1
Posted 16 February 2007 at 02:33 pm

he sounds like a pretty cool guy but with some mental health issues and a crushed ego. when first hearing about him he sounded believable but i doubt anyone could jump over a church steeple in all fairness- possible but improbable coming from a scientific point of view.
anyone know the link between him and abe lincoln?


thehandmn
Posted 21 February 2007 at 12:30 pm

Catkilller7 said: "The most recent incidents were probably some people who read up on this guy and decided to try and scare some people for fun. Either that or he's a real monster, but I have firm disbelieves in that. Meh, My own opinion."

And they'd have gotten away with it, too...if it weren't for those meddling kids and their dog!


wasnr
Posted 24 August 2007 at 08:51 am

I for one welcome our jumping, fire-breathing overlords...


tomka
Posted 08 June 2008 at 08:09 am

Spam deleted


a1c
Posted 08 August 2008 at 10:42 pm

Sounds like Lord Byron's action hero to me.


illiotibial
Posted 16 January 2010 at 12:35 pm

I think the alien theory is about the most unintelligent things I have ever heard. First of all, how did he get here? 2nd, why would an alien go for women? 3rd, what are the odds of an alien from a planet whose environment was so different from that of earth have a human appearance and stature?


RoflBeard
Posted 18 January 2010 at 08:31 am

1st He got here on a spaceship, duh! 2nd He went for the earth ladies because the women on his planet have scales.
And as for your third point.....assuming that intelligent life must have apposable thumbs to advance....it's likely they will look similar.


MacAvity
Posted 18 January 2010 at 09:49 pm

Obviously an early supervillain, probably an inspiration for those who came later. We owe this guy so much. At least some of us do.


Tabbykitten13
Posted 31 January 2012 at 07:11 am

This reminds me almost spot on of a vampire/demon like creature described in the book "Passing Strange" By J.A. Citro. It's a book of New England oddeties and happenings of the gothic sort. In one he tells about a creature who's behavior and appearance are almost identical to Spring Heeled Jack, other than the fact that he had a silver face, or wore a silver mask with pointed ears. I believe it was in nearly the same era as well, but I would have to dig out the book to be sure.


Beckzy
Posted 08 May 2013 at 09:34 am

illiotibial said: "I think the alien theory is about the most unintelligent things I have ever heard. First of all, how did he get here? 2nd, why would an alien go for women? 3rd, what are the odds of an alien from a planet whose environment was so different from that of earth have a human appearance and stature?"

I think the Marsupial hypothesis is more stupid.

1. UFOs, Spaceships, whatever E.Ts use (we'll probably never know). He may have wanted to stay behind and let his own species leave without him.

2. He went for men too, though only slapping them. It's been psychologically proven that being in an atmosphere different from your own makes you go funny in the head (When Neil and his gang landed on the moon, they started laughing insanely, and it wasn't necessarily because of what they had achieved, but because the unfamiliar atmosphere was doing things to their heads. Jack was also known to be laughing insanely) There's hundreds of reasons why he may of chosen to go specifically for women, maybe one of them was because he found them vulnerable/easier to terrorize and doing this amused him. Also, Most know the astronauts can't walk on the moon due to the fact humans are too powerful for the moon's gravity, so they have to jump, and they could jump quite easily up to 30 ft. (Jack was reported to have usually been jumping up to 25 ft) Maybe Jack's own gravity was different, which is why he was leaping all over the place, maybe his planet is bigger and has a higher gravitational pull, being reared in this environment would make Jack experience the earth as a low-gravity world, again like we do the moon.

3. Just because of Atmosphere and Gravity, doesn't mean his environment has to be too different from ours, and also just because of his basic human appearance, doesn't mean he has to come from a similar environment. And why does everyone think aliens have to be these green skinned brown eyed creatures? And no, Jack wasn't described as too human looking. yes, he had four limbs and a pair of eyes (which were said to glow like two fiery balls, suggesting he's from somewhere nocturnal) but he was always described as 'unhuman-like' and 'Hideous' or simply just 'strange looking'. Maybe Jack didn't look human, perhaps his appearance was fake, a disguise/costume he made to try and look as human as possible.

As for the 'blue-fire', it probably wasn't fire at all. (No singes or scorch marks were reported on the victims) probably blue phosphor (only explanation I can find). Many of our species on earth have bio-luminescence, which means they can radiate light through the actions of some of the compounds in their metabolism. (One example would probably be the glow worm) Spring-Heeled Jack (if he were alien) could of had the ability to create bio-electricity, which means his breathing system could of been electrically charged, which would explain why his victims would have fits after he breathed the blue gas into their faces. Species like the electric-eel can do this and can create a paralyzing shock of up to 600 volts.

Also from all that I've read, the sightings of him went past the human life-span (or the adult life-span at least). This destroys the mad-inventor theory (which would be tough theory anyway considering springs can break your ankles) because obviously Jack couldn't of started as a child. The 'Inventor' would of had to of been an adult, and that adult would of become too old to do it eventually. You could say that maybe some people had picked up on the gadgets or perhaps there was a son who carried out Jack's work if he were an inventor, but then why would they go around attacking people anyway? Any inventor would rather find a way to make money out of it than to go around terrorizing people just for fun, and if it was someone mentally retarded, then they wouldn't of had the intelligence to build springs like that,

Another fact is that the Victorians didn't have time to go prancing around attacking people, even at night time, they needed long sleep for all the work they had to do, as the Victorian era wasn't as lavish as today, only the richest could spend time on hobbies, and again if it was an Inventor, like anyone, they'd want to make money out of their inventions. Also why haven't scientists and modern inventors come up with springs capable of launching you 25 ft into the air. There was also the case of World War II, where the Germans put springs in the heels of their boots, and ended up breaking their ankles, so there's all evidence of springs and spring-like substances not being able to launch you too far without breaking something.
So, I'm with the alien hypothesis, because it's the only thing that seems to fit logically.


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