Before the murderous reign of Jack the Ripper, another Jack was terrorizing the citizens of London in the dark of night. Fortunately, this Jack wasn’t a killer, but there was still plenty about him to set everyone on edge.
This monstrous stalker was known as Spring Heeled Jack.
Leaping through the dark city streets and attacking the unknowing public at random, Spring Heeled Jack struck fear into the hearts of Londoners. He traveled via rooftop, dressed like a gentleman, and could even breathe blue fire from his mouth.
What sort of creature was this Spring-Heeled Jack, man or monster? Or maybe the better question is–was Spring Heeled Jack even real?
Early Ghosts of London
Before Spring Heeled Jack leapt onto the scene, early 19th century London was already being plagued by ghosts and specters. This left it primed for a figure like Jack to appear.
These pale figures were considered harmless at first. However, as time went on, reports of these ghosts stalking and even attacking pedestrians were reported.
While the idea of streets being haunted by ghosts may seem humorous to us today, there was a very real danger involved. Surprisingly, this danger didn’t come from the so-called ghosts themselves, but instead from the overzealous ghost hunters of the day.
As we know, no true ghosts were walking the streets, and as the residents of Hammersmith in 1803 would come to learn, trying to banish something that doesn’t exist could lead to murder.
The Hammersmith Ghost
In the final days of 1803, reports started to filter in of a ghost haunting Hammersmith, situated on the outskirts of London. This ghost was believed to be the unsettled soul of a suicide victim, and was dressed all in white.
It was said that this ghost managed to frighten a few people to the point of shock, and even death. But there is no concrete evidence of this.
What we do know is that late one night in 1804, bricklayer Thomas Millwood was returning home after a day of work. A bricklayer’s uniform consisted of a white shirt, pants, and apron, and in the dark Millwood cut a slightly ghostlike figure.
Excise officer Francis Smith was so startled by Millwood’s appearance that he shot and killed the bricklayer. He was then arrested for the murder.
Smith would be charged with the murder, but his original punishment of execution was commuted to a year of hard labor instead. All of the attention that the murder garnered was enough to make the real Hammersmith ghost come forward.
The spirit was actually a shoemaker named John Graham, who had been covering himself with a white sheet in order to frighten his apprentice.
Who Was Spring-Heeled Jack?
It would be decades after the Hammersmith ghost that Spring-Heeled Jack would make his appearance. While the Hammersmith ghost and Spring-Heeled Jack were both thought to be dangerous night stalkers, they shared very little as far as appearances go.
What Did Spring-Heeled Jack Look Like?
Instead of being a spectral white figure, Spring-Heeled Jack much more closely resembled a devil.
Witnesses described Jack as a tall, spindly man with devilish attributes such as a sharp nose, pointed features, and glowing red eyes. His hands were said to be tipped with metallic claws, and a helmet covered his head.
Spring-Heeled Jack was said to dress like a gentleman, but beneath his long black coat, he wore a tight-fitting white one-piece.
What Did Spring-Heeled Jack Do?
As far as the feats that Jack could accomplish go, his most recognizable was the one from which his name originated. Spring-Heeled Jack was said to be able to leap over entire buildings, and would traverse the city by jumping from roof to roof.
He would also use this power to escape when it seemed like he might be captured. Jack’s other power was that of blue-white flame breath that struck fear into unsuspecting pedestrians.
The Attacks of Spring-Heeled Jack
Like the Hammersmith ghost and other sightings of spirits, the first sightings of Spring-Heeled Jack were vague and nebulous.
But unlike previous ghosts, there are detailed accounts of later attacks by Spring-Heeled Jack that would make what would have just been a legend seem much more real.
Here is a list of the attacks of Spring Heeled Jack:
- Assault on Mary Stevens, October 1837
- The first recorded attack of Spring Heeled Jack involved him leaping at a woman named Mary Stevens, kissing her face, tearing at her clothes, and scratching her skin. Mary screamed, and this caused Jack to flee. The very next day, Spring-Heeled Jack leapt in front of a carriage near Mary’s home, causing it to crash.
- Attack of Jane Alsop, February 19, 1838
- A man claiming to be a police officer knocked on the door of Jane Alsop requesting a light. The man told Jane he had caught Spring-Heeled Jack in the alley, and needed a candle, which Jane provided. To her shock, he threw off his coat, revealing Spring-Heeled Jack underneath. Jane reported that Jack spit blue and white flames from his mouth. He tore at her clothes and neck, but fled when Jane’s sister came to her rescue.
- Assault on Lucy Scales, February 28, 1838
- Spring-Heeled Jack’s attack that caused the most damage might also have been his shortest. Lucy Scales and her sister were returning from visiting their brother. When they passed an alley, there was a tall figure in the entrance of it that spit blue and white flames into her face. This caused Lucy to fall to the ground, experiencing violent seizures. The man quickly walked away, and Lucy was taken home to recover.
Was Spring-Heeled Jack Ever Caught?
Unlike the Hammersmith ghost, there seems to be no earthly explanation for the appearances and attacks of Spring-Heeled Jack. Reports of Jack spread far and wide, lasting all the way to the turn of the century before the mysterious leaping Jack disappeared for good.
Spring-Heeled Jack was never caught, but his reign of terror did eventually end. The legend of Spring-Heeled Jack still lives on, puzzling experts and the general public alike.
Was Spring-Heeled Jack real? He was certainly real enough to the unfortunate victims of his attacks, and while we might not have any solid proof of his existence, his impact is undeniable.
“Meet Spring-Heeled Jack, the Leaping Devil That Terrorized Victorian England”-Eric Grundhauser
“ENGLAND’S MOST NOTORIOUS URBAN LEGEND: THE MYSTERY OF SPRING-HEELED JACK”-Rachel Littlewood