There have been stories since the first quarter of the 19th century about a man who lurks in the shadows and leaps out to terrorize people only to bound away with incredible leaping strides. But the legendary “Spring Heeled Jack” may have only been one part of a much longer story about people who somehow found a way to defy the laws of physics and jump with incredible alacrity away from their pursuers. And this month the 4+4 performing arts festival remembered the Czech superhero known only as Perak, the Spring Man of Prague as he battled the Nazis.
Perak was a man dressed all in black who would leap from the shadows and terrify those who he encountered – and as the story goes, Perak startled more Nazis than anyone else with his tumbling act. Then, when the victims of his high jumping hijinks came around to capturing him, he would leap away – often displaying such incredible feats as leaping over a train car, a high fence, or a small building. The Perak, as he would become remembered as, showed such incredible daring that he was rumored to be feared by police alongside another figure who had razor blades attached to his fingers.
It seems strange, but the two figures were paralleled almost precisely during the 1834 appearance of the man later known as Spring Heeled Jack. Jack was alleged to be a supernatural terror that appeared in the area just before the appearance of one of the most notorious killers of the era – Jack the Ripper. And although Spring Heeled Jack was later thought to be nothing more than a legend, he was seen by many people over the course of several years afterward, including several different divisions of troops. And the sightings continued until 1873 when he finally disappeared in Sheffield. At least that’s what reports suggested.
Had he disappeared? Or simply moved? In 1940 another figure that by unknown means leaped vast distances was spotted. And after the war, Czech cartoonists made the character into a superhero to entertain the next upcoming generation and possibly keep the legend alive. Perak was, according to the fiction at the time, a chimneysweep with couch cushions on his heels. These of course are a far cry from the terrifying reports logged by witnesses at the time. Of course given the atmosphere of the time it’s difficult to determine how much of it was real and how much was merely rumor. The official story suggests that there were no reports of this mysterious figure reported to police at the time. The caveat, as researcher and Authority on the matter George Zenaty suggests, is the reports would have been impossible to make without any evidence left behind by the spring man. And of course one of the elements of his story was that no evidence was left in his wake aside from horrified witnesses. And that, at the time, was not considered sufficient evidence to report a crime.