Beginning in 1837, there circulated within London vague reports of a man appearing suddenly, startling innocent people, and then jumping to impossible heights and vanishing. One report stated that the man caused the crash of a horse and carriage by appearing in front of the vehicle and then escaping by jumping over a 10-foot fence.
Newspapers picked up the stories of the being who would later be named “Spring Heeled Jack.”
Although there were various reports of the man over time, history has chronicled three canonical events attributed to Jack.
The first involved a young woman named Jane Alsop. On the evening of February 19, 1838, there was a knock at the Alsop family’s London home. Jane went to answer it and found a tall man on the doorstep. He asked her to bring a candle, claiming that Spring Heeled Jack had been cornered in the alley adjoining the house. Jane fetched a candle and held it up to the man’s face. He suddenly knocked her to the ground and threw off his cloak. He appeared to be wearing a tight-fitting white body suit and a blue-white flame burst from his mouth. His arms ended with metal claws and his eyes glowed. Jane screamed and her sister came running to the doorway. The man fled, possibly by jumping to impossible heights over walls and gates and into the night.
The second notable event occurred soon after, on the night of February 28, 1838. Margaret and Lucy Scales were walking home when they noticed a cloaked man watching them make their way down an alley. As soon as they approached, the man leapt out of the shadows and spewed forth a blue-white flame from his mouth and into the eyes of Lucy. Blinded, she fell to the ground. Margaret screamed and the man escaped by jumping over a 14-foot fence enclosing the alley.
The last accepted encounter with Spring Heeled Jack occurred several decades later in August of 1877, at an army post near the English city of Aldershot. A sentry was standing guard when he was approached by a tall, thin, man in a long cloak. The sentry demanded that the man identify himself, but the strange man remained silent. The man approached the sentry until they were within a few feet of each other. The sentry was about to demand again that the man identify himself when the man slapped the sentry several times in the face. The sentry fired his gun, but it had no effect on the man. The shot alerted another sentry who came running to the first sentry’s aid. This caused the man to leap high over both sentries and off into the shadows of the night.
After 1877, there would be various vague reports of a man jumping to impossible heights in order to get away from pursuing crowds. There was even a report of a leaping figure near Wales as late as 1997.
Over time, there were various theories as to the identity of Spring Heeled Jack. It was proposed, since no man can jump that high, that Jack was some kind of animal. Identifying an animal that shoots blue fire from its mouth is a trickier problem. There was also a theory that it was a man from the future. And, of course, some believed he was an extraterrestrial.
If Jack was a man with some kind of apparatus enabling him to make fantastical leaps over buildings and walls, modern science and engineering have not been able to replicate it.
Whoever or whatever Jack was, he remains an enigma that has captured the public imagination for more than 170 years.