Springheel Jack

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Mysterious Flying Humanoid of Victorian England.

Variant names: Leaping terror, Springald, Spring-heeled Jack, Suburban ghost.

Physical description: Tall. Thin. Glowing red eyes. Huge, pointed ears. Blue flames emanate from its mouth. Fingers are exceptionally sharp ("made of iron"). Wears a long cloak (or an oilskin or sheepskin) and a shining helmet.

Behavior: Seems to be able to leap or glide through the air with a paranormal ability. Laughs ringingly. Attacks people and rips their clothing and flesh.

Significant sightings: First noted in September 1837 when attacks on three young women took place in Barnes Common, Middlesex, England. On October 11, 1837, seventeen-year-old Polly Adams was assaulted on Shooter's Hill Road, London, by a bizarre, leaping figure. Next, eighteen-year-old Jane Alsop was attacked at her front door on February 18, 1838, by a man who claimed to be a policeman but who slashed at her clothing with metallic claws. The attacks continued through 1839 and reoccurred in London in 1843 and 1845 (resulting in Springheel Jack's only murder, involving a thirteen-year-old prostitute named Maria Davis whom he threw into a sewer). Similar assaults were noted in Caistor-on-Sea, Norfolk, and Aldershot, Hampshire, in 1877. The final appearance of the creature took place in Everton, Bedford, in September 1904, when a figure like a giant bat was seen leaping from rooftop to rooftop.

Possible explanations: (1) In the 1830s, police theorized that a criminal was using springs concealed in his boot heels. Henry de la Poer Beresford, the marquis of Waterford (1811-1859), was considered a suspect. However, no known alloy is compressible and resilient enough to account for the reported leaps made by Springheel Jack.

(2) Newspaper writers theorized that the attacks were made by a "ghost, a bear, or a devil" because a letter had been received claiming that a rich man had wagered he could visit London suburbs disguised as one of these creatures.

(3) An unidentified flying object (UFO) entity, similar to other Flying Humanoids, suggested by J. Vyner.

(4) An escaped Kangaroo (Family Macropodidae), though the absence of one of these animals from a Victorian zoo would surely have been reported.

(5) A fictional story in which Springheel Jack is a nobleman who is cheated out of his inheritance and becomes a highwayman to steal from the unscrupulous rich first appeared in 1875 as a forty-eight-part serial by penny-dreadful writer Charlton Lea. This literary Springheel Jack was demonic; was dressed in a crimson suit; and had batlike wings, horns, talons, cloven hooves, and sulphurous breath. His leaps were accomplished by the use of steel rods and springs. Much of the legend seems to derive from this narrative, which was picked up by other sensational writers.

(6) A series of hoaxes, perhaps including an original one by the marquis of Waterford himself, who apparently was something of a trickster. The story of a wraithlike Springheel Jack has been perpetuated in urban legend and adolescent pranks ever since.

Sources: "Outrage on a Young Lady," Times (London), February 22, 1838, p. 6; Charlton Lea, Spring-Heeled Jack: The Terror of London (London, 1904); J. Vyner, "The Mystery of Springheel Jack," Flying Saucer Review 7 (May-June 1961): 3-6; Peter Haining, The Legend and Bizarre Crimes of Spring Heeled Jack (London: Frederick Muller, 1977); Doris Jones-Baker, The Folklore of Hertfordshire (London: B. T. Batsford, 1977); Gordon Stein, "The Strange Crimes of Spring Heeled Jack," Fate 41 (November 1988): 48-54; Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud, A Dictionary of English Folklore (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 340-341; Martin Jeffrey,

"Portrait of a Spring Heeled Hoaxer," Mystery Magazine, 2001, http://www.mysterymag.com/ html/spring%20hoaxers.html.

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