The night is dark, and the evening dew glistens on the cobblestones like freshly spilled blood. Gas lamps flicker like corpse candles, and the sky is filled with smoke and fog. Out of the night comes a scream, and a howl. A figure runs past, his eyes burning, and leaps onto the stone support of an iron fence. He glances back, laughing with a mouth filled with fire like some devil, then jumps off into the shadows, never to be seen again. Spring Heeled Jack has struck again!
If that sounds like something out of a penny dreadful from the Victorian period, the granddaddies of modern creepypastas that gave birth to characters like The Slenderman, that's precisely because stories similar to this were fodder for some of the pulpiest publications on the market. However, while fiction writers couldn't get enough of the bizarre myth that was Spring Heeled Jack, the newspapers were also reporting on the very real events that had inspired this bizarre figure of urban myth.
Who Is Spring Heeled Jack?
The Original Sightings
The first reported sightings of the being known as Spring Heeled Jack, or just Springheel Jack, come from around 1837 or so in the city of London. A man, dressed all in black, would leap out at women, and tear at their clothes. Several witnesses claimed to have seen him run away when confronted, and that he possessed extraordinary powers of propulsion. Spring Heeled Jack was able to leap 10 foot hedge rows with ease, according to those who saw him, and even to jump to the roofs of buildings from street level. He was nimble, quick, and all who saw him agreed that his eyes glowed red in the dark, and he had a chilling inhuman laugh. Naturally there were those who accused this being of being a demon or devil (there is a difference), or at the least a manifestation of some pagan bogeyman, like the goat-legged Pan.
When you take into account Spring Heeled Jack's modus operandi, the randy goat god Pan seems like an almost logical choice. Jack would jump out of shadows, all teeth and smiles, all of his early victims were women, and he only ran off when people came to try and help them. There were reports of Jack disguising himself as a police officer to lull in female victims, and reports of him leaping out specifically to rip away the blouses of women out of doors at night. There were also reports of Jack belching out a white-blue fire that caused temporary blindness in those who were too close to him when it happened.
Printing The Legend
Because There Weren't Many Facts
As the myth grew, the press began to seriously muddy the waters. Particularly since things like journalistic integrity and fact-checking were still in their infancy. Every paper and reporter was trying to one-up every other with more lurid, fanciful stories of Jack's supposed attacks. When Jack the Ripper committed his infamous crimes, there were some who attributed them to the same, red-eyed figure in a dark cape that could vanish unseen to the roof tops once he'd committed his crimes. Some of this speculation mixed in with the myth, and theories about who the person behind the bounding leaps was varied from a nobleman to an alien, a circus performer gone mad, to the devil himself.
The legend didn't die, either. Sightings have ranged up to the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the mythical figure still appears in modern media, including video games and modern fantasy novels. Leaping Jack has never been identified, or proven to be real, but those little roadblocks certainly haven't stopped him from becoming a popular figure in both fiction and urban mythology.