• Into the Rabbit Hole

Ep. 19 Spring-Heeled Jack!

Updated: Nov 5, 2019

Spring heeled jack

Our story begins as most legends do.

A dark and foggy night, deep in the streets of south London. The moon was barely visible through the thick October mist that clung to the alleys and businesses that packed the small shopping street of Lavender Hill. Here, among the taverns and tailors, a creature stalks.

Mary Stevens, a servant girl of one of the many shops, was walking home after a quick visit to her parents. Her footsteps are muffled by the fog, but she’s walked this path more times than she could count.

From Battersea where her parents reside to Lavender hill. All she had to do was cut through Clapham Common, and she’d nearly be home.

But it was here, right in the center of the common, that a strange and terrifying beast leapt at her from an alley. It restrained her, tightly gripping her arms with cold flesh and sharp claws. The beast kissed her, ripped her clothes and touched and clawed anywhere he could.

Mary knew not what this vile being was, but she knew she had to do something.

She screamed, high and loud and long. The sound of which drew several residents from their sleepy domiciles. They launched after the being, who fled before the first responder had even made it to Mary. So quickly and without a trace, he was gone.

The next evening, the leaping creature is said to have chosen a very different victim near Mary Stevens' home, establishing the action that would reappear over and over again, throughout decades of legends: he jumped in the way of a passing carriage, causing the coachman to lose control, crash, and severely injure himself and his passengers. Several witnesses claimed that the ghostly fiend escaped by jumping over a 9 ft high wall while babbling with a high-pitched, ringing laughter.

The sinister figure appeared again, with little rest in between attacks and for the first time the police called to the scene found something of interest. Evidence to his existence. Up until this point, the devilish thing had been rumor and rantings of victims.

Get this, one of the investigators of the time had a good look about and found to his and everyone’s surprise,: a pair of very deep tracks in the mud that indicated that they had been made from a great height. These tracks, which were clearly human in nature, hinted to some gadgetry on the shoes, and it was then speculated that it might be “some sort of compressed springs”.

This creature was no beast. Not in the way we think of animals, at least. He is a man, a devil, or a ghostly trickster. He is known as Spring-heeled Jack.

Spring-heeled Jack was described by people who claimed to have seen him as having a terrifying and frightful appearance, with diabolical physiognomy, clawed hands, and eyes that "resembled red balls of fire". One report claimed that, beneath a black cloak, he wore a helmet and a tight-fitting white garment like an oilskin. Many stories also mention a "Devil-like" aspect. Others said he was tall and thin, with the appearance of a gentleman. Several reports mention that he could breathe out blue and white flames and that he wore sharp metallic claws at his fingertips. At least two people claimed that he was able to speak comprehensible English.

Spring Heeled Jack’s next attack is most likely his most famous. Miss Jane Alsop resting inside of her fathers home in South London on the night of 19 February 1838, when a knock sounded on the door. Without hesitating, Jane answered. The man outside claimed to be a police officer, asking for assistance. He told her to bring a light, claiming "we have caught Spring-heeled Jack here in the lane”. Jane Alsop, caught up in the excitement grabbed the nearest candle and rushed from her home. It was out in the alley by the house that she noticed that instead of police garb, the man wore a large dark cloak.

Still, it was near late winter, and night was chilly. She gave him the candle and looked around for the beast captured. But at the same moment, 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".

Without saying a single 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 and kicked and screamed some more. Eventually she managed to get away from villain and ran towards the house. He caught her on the steps and tore her neck and arms with his metal-like claws. Thankfully, Jane was rescued by one of her sisters, after which her assailant fled.

After the true police arrived, Miss Alsop told them everything in detail. She even reported that he wore a large helmet and that his clothing, which appeared to be very tight-fitting, resembled white oilskin. All this information led to terror and panic amongst the throngs of London.

On 28 February 1838, nine days after the attack on Miss Alsop, 18-year-old Lucy Scales and her sister were returning home after visiting their brother, a butcher who lived in a respectable part of Limehouse. Miss Scales stated in her deposition to the police that as she and her sister were passing along Green Dragon Alley, they observed a person standing in an angle of the passage. She was walking in front of her sister at the time, and just as she came up to the person, who was wearing a large cloak, he spurted "a quantity of blue flame" in her face, which deprived her of her sight, and so alarmed her, that she instantly dropped to the ground, and was seized with violent fits which continued for several hours.

Her brother added that on the evening in question, he had heard the loud screams of one of his sisters moments after they had left his house and on running up Green Dragon Alley he found his sister Lucy on the ground in a fit, with her sister attempting to hold and support her. She was taken home, and he then learned from his other sister what had happened. She described Lucy's assailant as being of tall, thin, and gentlemanly appearance, covered in a large cloak, and carrying a small lamp or bull's eye lantern similar to those used by the police. The individual did not speak nor did he try to lay hands on them, but instead walked quickly away. Every effort was made by the police to discover the author of these and similar outrages, and several persons were questioned, but were set free.

Who what why

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. The letter read;

“It appears that some individuals of the highest ranks of life, have laid a wager with a mischievous and foolhardy companion, that he durst not take upon himself the task of visiting many of the villages near London in three different disguises—a ghost, a bear, and a devil; and moreover, that he will not enter a gentleman's gardens for the purpose of alarming the inmates of the house. The wager has, however, been accepted, and the unmanly villain has succeeded in depriving seven ladies of their senses, two of whom are not likely to recover, but to become burdens to their families.

At one house the man rang the bell, and on the servant coming to open door, this worse than brute stood in no less dreadful figure than a spectre clad most perfectly. The consequence was that the poor girl immediately swooned, and has never from that moment been in her senses.

The affair has now been going on for some time, and, strange to say, the papers are still silent on the subject. The writer has reason to believe that they have the whole history at their finger-ends but, through interested motives, are induced to remain silent.”

Crazy right?

He became a character in a number of cheap penny dreadfuls, many titled, “Spring-Heeled Jack, the Terror of London,” where he was alternately portrayed as everything from a jilted brigand to a supernatural menace. All of these depictions just served to cement his boogeyman status.

In the 1870’s, Spring Heeled jack and his legends made headlines only a few more times before eventually disappearing into the minds and dreams of fiction. His story lives on through writings and movies, and now, today through our dope ass podcast.

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