Spring-heeled Jack Strikes Again?

Devilish Spring-Heeled Jack

A lurid depiction of the entity known as Spring-heeled Jack. [Source: Wickipedia Commons.]

Although I have never had the pleasure of meeting the gentleman, I confess to a serious crush on the work of Mike Dash. I deeply admire his research skills and hope to emulate them in my own work.  You’ll find his Past Imperfect blog here.

One of his finest achievements is his definitive work on the Victorian-era entity known as “Spring-Heeled Jack” that appeared in Fortean Studies 3, Steve Moore, ed., 1996: 7-125. You’ll find it here. I understand that Mr. Dash is working on an updated version; I’m eagerly looking forward to it.

He’s a completist and has collected in this article what appear to be all the known contemporary sources, references, and reports on the unearthly creature known for his inhuman ability to leap over tall walls and roofs and for his terrifying, diabolic appearance: he was sometimes seen with horns, claws, and eyes like “red balls of fire.” He also vomited flame and seemed impervious to gunshots. He was first seen in London in 1837 and isolated reports of similar entities continue until today.

I have run across some stories of mysterious beings that echo some of the features of a “Jack”: 1) extreme tallness/ ability to leap high in the air 2) a gliding motion 3) imperviousness to bullets 4) an ability to disappear quickly and 5) dressed in a cloak or cape. Few have the fiery eyes or fire-breathing ability of the original Spring-Heeled Jack. The creatures in the stories that follow, if not precisely “Jacks,” are from the same family of phantom attackers, cut from the same oilcloth, if you will…

I would confidently bet that Mike Dash has all of these reports in his files.  But I will be gratified if they are new to my readers. (All of the stories except the one from Galway appear in The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales From the Past, also available for Kindle.) Of course, I make no judgment about whether these were “real” ghosts or pranksters.


The Terrible Apparition Which Persecutes the Citizens of Elizabeth, N.J.

[Boston Herald.]

A ghost twelve feet in height, with fiery eyes and horns, has been disturbing the peaceful citizens of Elizabeth, N.J., with the most unseemly pranks. The apparition has been repeatedly seen of late, and a vigilance committee, armed to the teeth, scours the streets nightly, hoping to lay the specter with cold lead. Unfortunately, this ghost is extremely difficult to catch. Its agility is something amazing. Fences fifteen feet high afford no obstacle to the gigantic bounds by which it is accustomed to travel. One day last week it was actually cornered by the vigilance committee, but it made its escape by climbing a lightning rod to the roof of a church and leaping to the street on the other side. People have suggested that it must have a spring in it somewhere. It is rumoured that several young women have been kissed by the naughty ghost, and the girls are afraid to venture out of doors after dark. There is something anthropomorphous about the spook after all. Xenia [OH] Daily Gazette  30 January 1886: p. 4

The following is an excerpt from The Face in the Window: Haunting Ohio Tales about an uncanny Man in Black, in a Grim Reaper/Count Dracula cloak, with a touch of Spring-heeled Jack.


Residents of Spruce Street Describe Strange Apparition Which Haunts Locality

There is a real ghost in this city although the presence of the weird thing has been kept a secret for two or three days in order that a delegation of local sleuths could unearth the mysterious rendezvous of the unwelcome visitor.

Spruce Street, which heretofore has had the reputation of being one of the most quiet and peaceful thoroughfares in the city, threatens to share honors with Sleepy Hollow where the famous headless horseman was wont to chase poor Ichabod Crane up and down the hills near Tarrytown.

But the comparison stops here, for instead of the headless phantom which infested the Sleepy Hollow district, the good neighbors on the street say it is a legless man that dashes out of the yards and jumps across the road only to disappear in an orchard across the street.

Mrs. John Gehrke of 108 Spruce Street was the first of many residents to discover the “awful thing” last Thursday night about ten thirty o’clock and she flushed the ghost in the yard and was terrified when the thing which looks like a man dressed in a long black cape, skimmed over the ground across the road and disappeared in an old orchard which has the reputation of being spooky on account of a suicide which occurred there one winter’s night.

Mrs. Eva Collier of 110 Spruce Street was the second party to witness the aeroplane antics of the spector, and although the story told by Mrs Gehrke was laughed at, the smiles from the lips of the doubting Thomases changed to looks of grave concern when Mrs. Collier described the unnatural flight which she witnessed.

Mrs. Ella Danforth of 120 Spruce Street was the third resident of the street to run across the night flyer and when her story was told among the neighbors, the cold chills began to creep along the spines of her listeners, and to add to her description of the ghostly thing, a young lad burst into the room and said he had seen the gruesome object the night before and had pursued it until it was lost in an old grape arbor near Woodford Avenue.

Needless to say there are few windows remaining open on Spruce Street these nights, and it is confidentially reported that several men on the street have failed to spend their evenings over in town since the apparition has cursed the street with its presence. Elyria [OH] Republican 10 September 1908: p. 12


Mysterious Giant Figure Keeps Georgetown, Del. Guessing—Frightens Women and Children.

Georgetown, Del., May 18. More than seven feet in height and swathed in a log black cloak, closely wrapped around its face, a mystery has been exciting some parts of Georgetown where it has followed women and young girls and jumped out from behind trees at them.

The “Devil in Black,” as it is called, first appeared several night [sic] ago, when a dozen or so persons saw it during the course of the evening. From behind a tree it jumped at Mrs. William Curdy and sent her screaming with fright into a neighbor’s house, while a daughter of Joseph Carnel also was chased by the mysterious stranger until she fell almost unconscious into Fred Rust’s grocery store.

The men of the neighborhood, informed of the affair, led by William Curdy, ran across fields, jumped fences and through back yards with the  “Devil” but a few yards ahead of them, but, while crossing the bid [sic] ditch known as the Savannah, the figure completely disappeared, and despite search, could not be found.

Again it was seen by several young girls and last night it made it [sic] appearance and was seen closely by Mrs. Carn Josephs, who heard a noise as she passed her woodshed. She turned to look and distinctly saw the “Devil” walk out of the shed and after her.

Almost fainting with fear she ran screaming into the house while her husband ran into the yard with his gun and fired at the tall figure, which was plainly distinguished at the woodshed. In a second it was gone with no trace of injury from the gun. Many superstitious declare that bullets cannot hit it, but some of the more determined men declare it is the work of a practical joker and expect to put a load of shot into it at their first opportunity. Fort Worth [TX] Star-Telegram 9 May 1909: p. 5

An Old-fashioned Ghost.—The Marysville (California) Herald says, “A merchant doing business at Industry Bar, relates that a figure having the similitude of a man, dressed in a cloak as an outside garment, has been seen in the vicinity of the Bar by a number of creditable witnesses. It has been questioned by many, and shot at by fifteen individuals at once, and still persists in its visits, saying nothing but ‘ Death to the murderer!’ Great excitement prevails at the Bar concerning it, and some of our citizens propose going up to satisfy themselves in regard to the matter. One person saw it and discharged his pistol, confidently expecting to see it drop; but finding it produced no effect, he became terrified, and fled, but the ghost kept beside him, seeming to glide rather than run.” Spiritual Telegraph, Vol. 3, 1854: p. 498


Apparition Eight Feet High Leaps Into the River.

Dublin. A spectral figure, gray in color and about eight feet in height, is said to have haunted the railway line near Galway for nights.

The apparition, which is described as “tapering toward the top,” walks from the railway viaduct across the bank of the stream and then disappears.

A number of people have visited the place toward midnight, when the apparition is due to appear. One man declares that he saw it jump from the top of the viaduct into the Corrib, where it disappeared.

It was not “drowned,” however, for on the succeeding night it was seen again by a number of students from Queen’s college, Galway, One of the  students volunteered to go over and talk to it, but when it appeared he changed his mind.

On a Sunday evening a party of six men, armed with shotguns, revolvers and sticks, sallied forth to “lay the ghost.” They had been in ambush but a short time only when the specter loomed up before them. One of the men raised a revolver, but before he could fire he fell in a swoon. The expedition was abandoned, and the man was taken into Galway, where he was medically attended.

These strange reports have created excitement in the district, and search parties are out nightly for the purpose of unraveling the mystery. Danville [IN] Republican 7 January 1909: p. 7

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com.


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