In the 1830’s all the way to the early 1900’s, a man by the name of Jack made his way into the hearts and penny-dreadfuls of England and the new world. Sightings of the man inspired fear in all those who spotted him, and rumors quickly spread that he was responsible for a number of murders throughout London. No, this man was not the infamous Jack the Ripper, he was the lesser known and still more perplexing Spring Heeled Jack.
First spotted in the summer of 1837 by a businessman returning home from work, the figure leaped with ease over the fence of a cemetery right in front of him like a panther. The frightened businessman, who expeditiously fled the scene reported the man as muscular, with pointed ears and nose, and protruding eyes which emitted an unearthly glow. Months passed, and no one spotted the mysterious man again until October of that year when Mary Stephens was accosted in Clapham Common by the mysterious figure. She screamed, causing her attacker to quickly flee from the scene, but not before it grabbed her with its “cold and clammy [hands] as those of a corpse.” Several residents searched for the mysterious man, but no trace was found. The next day, a coachman was driving his carriage down the street quite near Mary Stephens’ home, when the demon-like figure leapt in front of his carriage, sending the horses into a panic and causing him to lose control and crash. The coachman, along with several witnesses then saw the man who was quickly building a reputation for himself of mischief leap ten feet in the air over a wall with great ease, cackling the whole way. As news spread of this character’s ability to jump great heights, he was dubbed “Spring-Heeled Jack.” More reports said that Jack could leap atop small buildings.
Months later, Sir John Cowan, the Lord Mayor of London, was ruminating on the letter he had received via mail from an anonymous source. The madman’s antics were still sending ripples throughout Peckham. The letter had indicated that seven people had themselves been deprived “of their senses, two of whom [were] not likely to recover, but to become burdens to their families.” Stories, it seemed, were proliferating themselves either by the hand of the villain or by themselves. Describing himself as a skeptic, the mayor nonetheless arranged a meeting in his home, The Mansion House. He had displayed on his table a mound of letters from all over London of “wicked pranks.” Several letters even went so far as to indicate that several women had been “severely wounded by a sort of claws the miscreant wore on his hands.” The mayor suspected hysteria to be widespread, and said that many of these were the ramblings of an overly excited London public. He found it difficult to believe “That the ghost performs the feats of a devil upon earth.” Though he dispatched extra patrols, offered rewards for the villain responsible, and implemented every policy he could to quell these stories of attacks, neither he, nor his successors could ever ascertain who was responsible for the terrifying capers. Finally, at the turn of the century, the tales became less and less frequent and eventually petered out, leaving many to wonder who this man was, and if the rumors of his demonic appearance were no more than masks and makeup, or if they were something more sinister.