Spring-Heeled Jack

“Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down.”—Ray Bradbury


I love things that defy any sort of logic and cannot be classified with any other kind of phenomenon. Such is the case with Spring-heeled Jack, the creature best known for terrorizing England during the 1800s, although most of those who have written about him don’t seem to realize that Jack had a life outside of the greater London area*. He was also seen capering around in Louisville, Kentucky later on that same century before heading back across the Atlantic a few years later to further torment some unfortunate Brits before moving on to Prague in the 1940s during World War II.

Descriptions of him vary, but not to the point that it’s reasonable to say that the incidents are unrelated. Some reports say that his facial features were sharp and aristocratic. Others reported him as appearing demonic, complete with the requisite red, glowing eyes so frequently associated with paranormal entities. He was sometimes well-dressed and wearing a long cloak, complete with a top hat or hood that obscured his face in some instances. Other times he was described as being dressed in what we would probably describe today as a superhero costume. This getup usually included some or all of the following: a bat wing cloak or some sort of winged accessory; a helmet, sometimes with horns or ears on top, like some early forerunner of Batman’s cowl; and a breastplate or some type of chest covering that contained a lamp. All in all, most of these descriptions sound like either the inspiration for Mr. Hyde or the Dark Knight meets Ironman, but with one important distinction: Jack predates all of these creations by at least 40 years, the last two by more than a century. Whatever his clothing style, he was almost always described as having sharp claws made of metal that he wore on his fingertips. He was also a serious perv.

Drawing of JackBy some accounts, Jack was first spotted by a businessman on his way home from work late one night in September of 1837. He saw a shadowy figure leap over a short fence surrounding a cemetery and got a good enough look at him as they crossed paths to see that he had sharp features, pointed ears and glowing eyes. A man matching this description was seen a short time later by a nearby group of three women and one man, who ran from him. He managed to grab one of the women, Polly Adams, and tore her shirt and fondled her, scratching her stomach in the process. Her loyal and courageous friends bravely left her behind, and she was later found unconscious on the sidewalk by a police officer. She had apparently fainted during the attack.

Other sources claim that his first appearance was an attack on an 18 year old girl named Mary Stevens in October of 1837. She said that a tall, thin man in a cloak had leaped down almost on top of her from the roof of a building as she was walking home one night. He then grabbed and began kissing her while tearing at her clothing. She screamed and the attacker fled, jumping back up onto the building from which he had come. According to some accounts, Mary was a prostitute who had been thrown into a ditch where she was later found dead, but her subsequent description of her attacker would seem to contradict this…or at least the dead part. I have no idea whether or not she was a hooker. She described the man’s hands as being cold and unusually soft and clammy.

The next day in the same neighborhood, Jack caused a carriage to crash by leaping in front of it. The startled driver lost control of the horses and was badly injured in the wreck. Jack was reported by several witnesses to have been laughing in an odd, high-pitched tone as he escaped by jumping over a nine foot wall. It was shortly after this that he was dubbed Spring-heeled Jack by the press. He pulled this same stunt a few more times in the closing months of that year, as well as attacking and feeling up several more young women.

In January of 1838, the mayor of London made public an anonymous letter that he had received claiming that Jack was the work of a group of pranksters and that they had scared a number of young women so badly that they were now all blithering idiots. It’s entirely possible that some sightings were hoaxes perpetrated by jokers with a warped sense of humor, but that doesn’t explain things like how Jack was able to leap down from rooftops without breaking his legs or jump nine foot walls, much less some even stranger abilities that he would demonstrate later on. It’s also hard to believe that multiple women were frightened to the point of suffering a mental breakdown. Jack may have been scary, but he wasn’t that scary. There was one report of a young woman answering a knock at the door and falling dead from fright after finding herself face to face with him, but it’s probably not true. Unless there was another witness present, how would anyone know that this was what happened? Rumors like this were common at the time, and most of them set off your BS detector pretty quickly.

A much more well-documented case of Jack showing up at someone’s door was the incident involving a young woman named Jane Alsop. In February of 1838, Jane opened the door to her family home late one night to a man claiming to be a police officer who said that they had captured Spring-heeled Jack and telling her to bring a light. When she went outside with a candle moments later, the man pulled back his hood, revealing a hideous face with glowing red eyes and blue and white flames coming out of its mouth. He grabbed her and tore her gown, but she managed to get away and made a run for her house. One of Jane’s sisters had heard her scream and met her as she was scrambling up the stairs to the front door. With Jack in pursuit, they managed to get inside and slam the door in his face, but not without both of them suffering a few scratches from his claws in the process. Jack continued to knock on the door for some time afterward, but I can’t imagine what he thought that would get him. Eventually, he went away.

In addition to his being butt-ugly and having fire coming out of his mouth, Jane described him as wearing a large helmet and a tight-fitting, white suit resembling oilskin (rubber, basically). She was also the first to report that he had what felt like metal claws on his fingertips. Why this girl would be answering the door in the middle of the night instead of waking her parents first is beyond me, but the story must have something to it since it was reported by The Times as well as the less reputable tabloids.

The next most well-documented case happened just eight days later and involved another teenage girl named Lucy Scales. Lucy and her little sister Margaret were returning home after having visited their brother when they happened upon a man wearing a long black cloak who spewed blue fire out of his mouth into Lucy’s face. This blinded her and caused her to collapse into convulsions which lasted for hours afterward. She was carried home by her brother, and Margaret later described what had happened to the authorities. She said that the man was tall, thin and well dressed, carrying some sort of lantern, and that he had either quickly walked away or made his escape by leaping up onto the roof of a nearby house, depending on the source. At least this time he didn’t try to grope either of the girls.

Jack on the cover of a penny dreadfulJack soon became the star of numerous penny dreadfuls, a somewhat generic term used to describe several types of publications being sold in those days – all of them cheap (a penny?), lurid, sensationalistic and popular with the semi-literate working class of the time, particularly young men. For some reason, these usually depicted Jack as being a kind of hero, which is hard to understand unless some at the time thought that there was something heroic about fondling and frightening young women.

These same sorts of attacks continued to happen around the greater London area, although with less and less frequency as Jack’s fame grew. At some point, they seem to have stopped altogether until 1843 when Jack reappeared in largely rural Northamptonshire, where he demonstrated an unusual proclivity for ambushing mail coaches. Then he mostly faded away again. He was seen from time to time over the next three decades, but his big comeback took place in the 1870s when he began to spread his appearances all around England, sometimes venturing as far north as Liverpool in the west and Castor on the east side of the island. He was also spotted a number of times at two different military bases, where he liked to leap from building to building to avoid capture, and once breathed blue flames into the face of a sentry before slapping him around and then running away laughing. When the soldiers fired their guns at him, the bullets had no effect (they never do), and there were some reports that when he was struck, it made a sound like the bullets were hitting something metal, just like in the case of the Hopkinsville goblins.

These later sightings were when Jack’s attire took on more of a superhero aspect. He was often reported as wearing a white suit underneath a black cape, sometimes described as resembling wings. He also seems to have replaced his bulkier helmet from earlier days with a sleeker model that was frequently reported as having horns.

Sightings began to taper off once again after 1879, although people continued to report seeing him now and then until 1904. Some other reports say that he was seen hopping around on rooftops near London Central Station in 1920. If this last report is accurate, and if Jack was the work of a prankster, he would have to have been at least 100 years old by then. Either that, or he passed his hobby along to a younger protégé.

In the summer of 1880, Jack seems to have sprung (or perhaps flew) across the pond for a vacation in, of all places, Louisville, KY. He apparently arrived by flying in on what witnesses described as some sort of propeller powered platform-type contraption which he worked with his hands and feet. He was seen peddling through the sky over downtown Louisville in what we would describe today as some kind of early prototype of a gyrocopter, which makes perfect sense…sort of, in some weird kind of way. By that I mean that this would be far from being the only time that enigmatic people would be seen flying around in vehicles that are antiquated by today’s standards but were beyond the technology of the time. I’d love to elaborate, but that’s a whole story unto itself.

It was later that same day when the first Jack attack was reported. Here he continued his perverted practice of springing upon unsuspecting women and tearing their clothes and fondling them before making his escape by bounding up onto rooftops and scampering away. The descriptions of witnesses were much like the earlier sightings of Jack in England but with one difference: in Louisville, he was said to have some sort of creepy light attached to his chest. I’m not sure what was creepy about it, but that’s how those who saw it described it.

It’s unclear how long these incidents persisted, but I get the impression that it wasn’t for more than a few months at most. Then it was back to merry old England for a time before making his final stop, as far as I know, in Prague.

Details of his activities there are hard to come by since this all happened during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in WW II, and sources indicate that there was no way that the Nazis would have allowed reports of these events to be circulated through official or unofficial channels. In short, even if they were well aware of Perak, the Czech name for Jack, they weren’t going to acknowledge him or allow anyone to spread these stories in any sort of public forum.

What details we have indicate that a “man” resembling Jack liked to jump out at people from the shadows, which there were a lot of since Prague was under blackout orders for most of the war. Another mysterious character known as Razor Blade Man, who was described as looking a lot like Jack, was also rumored to be lurking around the city at the same time. He got his name from his habit of slashing people with razors attached to his fingers. Since Jack was known to wear metal claws and also had a penchant for scratching people, I’m guessing that both of these were just different names for the same entity.  And since the Germans enforced strict curfews on occupied territories, few people other than military and police patrols would have been out on the  streets after dark, making me wonder just who he/they were scaring/slashing. Whoever he was picking on, it didn’t take long for Perak to become an underground hero just like Jack in London.

With that being said, Perak being cast as the protagonist in Czechoslovakian literature and films following the war is a lot easier to understand than was his hero treatment in some English fiction. In Prague, he was viewed as a troublemaker who caused problems for the Nazis. Whether this was true or if he was still just grabbing women is unknown, at least to me, but the fact that the Nazis harshlyFront page of a tabloid featuring Jack enforced curfew laws is a hard fact. And since Jack almost always appeared at night, it is possible that with no young women on the streets to accost, he did target German patrols, even if for no other reason than that they were the ones responsible for his not having any teenage girls around to grope.

After 1945, Jack seems to have moved on to wherever beings like him move on to. There have been isolated sightings of other Jack-like beings that some think are connected, but I remain unconvinced. Like the Grinning Man and a handful of other mysterious critters, Jack is an enigma within an already confoundingly enigmatic field: not quite a cryptid, too tangible to be labeled as any sort of spirit, and no direct connection to any kind of UFO activity. Whatever he was, he makes a great story.


*Many accounts of Jack’s appearances around London give specific neighborhoods and suburbs for where each incident took place, but I’m going to skip all of that and just say London for the most part since these details are meaningless to those of us not intimately familiar with the city. My sincere apologies for this generalization if it offends anyone, but it’s not like most of you in England would have any idea what I was talking about if I referenced Five Points or Lakewood. (For instance: it’s usually okay to be alone in one of these places after dark; the other, not so much. Guess which is which.) In the case of towns and areas outside of the greater London area, the actual locations are given. For those of you who don’t know where these places are, do what I did. Look at a map.

and all the devils are here



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