IN THIS ISSUE
Writing about the legendary Antjie Somers (FTN 47), Sigrid says some believed this Afrikaans robber-cum-bogey figure was a man in woman’s clothes who could moved fantastically fast because he had steel springs under his heels. I was reminded of Spring-Heel(ed) Jack in the 19th and early 20th century English lore.
known rumors about this figure (as yet nameless) centered round Barnes Common
in southwest London in September 1837, where girls reported a man in a dark
cloak vaulting the railings of a churchyard, tearing their clothes, and running
off laughing loudly. There were similar assaults on Clapham
Common the following month, in one of which the attacker left footprints which
look as if there were “machines or springs” on his shoes. A barmaid attending Blackheath Fair on 11 October claimed to have been molested
twice. At the fair itself a man with prominent eyes and a ringing laugh who
“looked like a nobleman” pulled he shawl off; later, on her way home, a huge
figure leapt out at her from a clump of trees, bounding in great strides, and
began ripping her clothes with what felt like iron claws. It had fiery eyes,
spat blue flames, and smelt of sulphur, but its laugh
was that of a man at the fair. Naturally, she fainted. Peter Haining (1977) says that by mid-October similar reports had
come from many districts in or near
It appears that some individuals (of, as the writer believes, the highest ranks of life) have laid a wager with a mischievous and foolhardy companion (name as yet unknown), that he durst not take upon himself the task of visiting many of the villages near London in three different disguises – a ghost, a bear, and a devil; and moreover, that he will not enter a gentleman’s gardens for the purpose of alarming the inmates of the house. The wager has, however, been accepted, and the unmanly villain has succeeded in depriving seven ladies of their senses.
At one house the man rang the bell, and on the servant coming to open door, this worse than brute stood in no less dreadful figure than a spectre clad most perfectly. The con sequence was that the poor girl immediately swooned, and has never from that moment been in her senses. …
The affair has now been going on for some time, and, strange to say, the papers are still silent on the subject. The writer … has reason to believe that they have the whole history at their finger ends, but, through interested motives, are induced to remain silent.
Lord Mayor seemed fairly skeptical, a member of the audience confirmed,
“servant girls about Kensington, Hammersmith and Ealing
tell dreadful stories of this ghost or devil”.
The matter was reported in The Times and other national papers
next day, and the day after that (11 January) the Lord Mayor showed a crowded
gathering a pile of letters from various places in and around
The bet is, understood to be of an even more grave nature than is there stated, and, if it be true, amounts to murder. As far as the writer has been informed, the bet is, that the monster shall kill six women in some given time.
The Lord Mayor himself was in two minds about the affair: he thought “the greatest exaggerations” had been made, and that it was quite impossible “that the ghost performs the feats of a devil upon earth”, but on the other hand someone he trusted had told him of a servant girl at Forest Hill who had been scared into fits by a figure in a bear’s skin; he was confident the person or persons involved in this “pantomime display” would be caught and punished (Haining 1977, 22-34, based on reports in The Times of 10 and 12 January 1838).
Next day, the Lord Mayor formed a vigilante committee of magistrates and army officers to track down the villain; police patrols were set up; rewards were offered; the elderly Duke of Wellington himself joined a posse. In vain; nobody was caught, and panic continued to spread. By the end of January, the press had given the mystery assailant a name, “Spring-Heeled Jack”.
not this name was derived from the archaic or literary word “springald” meaning “youngster”, as Peter Haining things, it fits a human prankster in disguise
better than a supernatural being. Never the less, those who described him often
made him sound like a demon. Thus, on
the first, the figure of Spring-Heeled Jack was appropriated for fictional
entertainment. A play by John Thomas Haines, in 1840, Spring-Heeled Jack,
the Terror of London, shows him as a blackguard who attacks women because
his own sweetheart jilted him; it was soon followed by W. G. Willis’s play The
Curse of the Wraydons, where Jack is a traitor
who spies for Napoleon, and stages murderous stunts as a cover. Later in the
1840s came an anonymous “Penny Dreadful” version, also entitled Spring-Heeled
Jack, the Terror of
There was another “Penny Dreadful” which appeared in 48 weekly installments in the 1870s, printed by the Newsagents Publishing Company and probably written by George A. Sala. It kept the same title, but was very different in theme. Sala’s Jack is no villain; he uses his power for good, saving the innocent from the wicked; he is in fact a nobleman by birth, though cheated of his inheritance, and his amazing leaps are due to compressed springs in the heels of his boots. He is dressed in a skin-tight glossy crimson suit, with bat’s wings, a lion’s mane, horns, talons, massive cloven hoofs, and a sulphurous breath; he moves in gigantic leaps, easily jumping over rooftops or rivers, and is immensely strong. Various boys’ comics took up the theme; a series produced by the Aldine Publishing Company toward the end of the 19th century lasted till 1904, similarly presenting Jack as a masked avenger who thwarts evil-doers.
Thus Spring-Heel Jack entered popular mythology. As presented in the later boys’ literature, he has an obvious similarly to more modern heroes, Superman, Batman, Spiderman and so on; like them, he appears threatening, but is a force for good; his seemingly supernatural powers are based on technology and physical strength, not magic; he has suffered an injustice which claims the reader’s sympathy; he has a dual life, in which the “marvelous” aspect is signaled by donning a costume which defines his powers. But in “real-life” contexts his original role as a mugger was by no means forgotten; indeed, it appears from the OED that in late Victorian times his name had become a general term for a street criminal who leapt upon people to rob or frighten them, and then relied on his speed in running to make his escape; it cites a Cheshire source from 1887, for example, where maids who had just been paid their yearly wage were said to be afraid to go out carrying much money, since “there are so many of these spring-heeled Jacks about”.
In 1907 contributors to Notes & Queries debated whether there had ever been a real Jack. One had heard of “a lively officer” at Aldershot in the 1870s who scared sentries by vaulting across a canal and pouncing on their shoulders; another, of a coal-merchant’s son in rural Warwickshire in the 1880s, “a youth not overburdened with common sense”, who leapt out at people as a prank, using shoes fitted with powerful and silent springs; another, of a hoaxer in the Midlands in the 1850s; another had been told by his grandmother, as early as the 1840s, that the “monster” was really the notorious young Marquis of Waterford [10th series Vol. 7 (1907), pp. 206, 256, 394-5, 496; Vol. 8 (1907), pp. 251, 455].
identification echoes the hints about young aristocrats and their callous
wagers made in January 1838; the Marquis was frequently in the news in the late
1830s for drunken brawling, brutal jokes, and vandalism, and was said to do
anything for a bet. He was also named as Jack by the Revd.
E. C. Brewer in 1880, who stated confidently that the Marquis “used to amuse
himself by springing on travelers unawares, to frighten them, and from time to
time others have followed his silly example.” Peter Haining
accepts this as the true explanation for the incidents between September 1837
and February 1838, when the Marquis was in
When I was
1975. Readers Digest Book of Strange Stories, Amazing Facts.
1999. Exploring the Unknown.
E. C. 1880. The Reader’s Handbook of Allusions, References, Plots and
1977. The Legend and Bizarre Crimes of Spring-Heel Jack.
Notes & Queries, 10th ser. Vol. 7 (1907), pp. 206,256, 394-6; vol. 8 (1907), pp. 251, 455.
E. S., 1975. Boys Will Be Boys (rev. ed.).
Véronique Campion-Vincent, CNRS,
"[Dossier Surgeons Thailande]."
No Case For Murder Against Doctors, Says Prosecution,
"Devil Worship Causes Uproar In
"Organ Snatchers." The Sunday Mail (
Freeman, Colin. "Doctors Took Parts From Dead
Children." Evening Standard,
"Street-Smart Girl, 9, Puts One Over Her Kidnappers." The
Philippine Star Online,
________. "Kidnappers Selling Victim's
Organs?" The Philippine Star Onlire,
“Mob Kills Tourist,
Bus Diver” New York Times
Masaaki. "Natives Attack Tourists In
Mcgirk, Jan. "Two Die As Mob Attacks Japanese Tour Group." The Independent, 2 May 2000.
"12 Mayan Villagers Sought In Slaying." The
Ibon. "Satanic Rites Rumors Linked To
Will Weissert "Japanese Tourist Killed In
"Man Held For Selling Body Parts After Rape Murders." Reuters Online, 14 May 2000.
"Angry Mexicans Try To Lynch Baby-Snatch
Suspects." Reuters Online,
"Another Corpse’s Eyes Gouged Out In Bihar
"Man In Hospital Wakes Up To Find Kidney
Missing." Times Of
Razak, Musbau. "
"Man Held For Ritual Child Murders." Afp Agence France-Presse, 18 September 2000.
Idowu. "The Old Money Machine."[Analysis] Tempo
"Child Kidnappings Spark Mob Justice.”
"Mob Attacks Kill Three In
"Mob Kills Five In Revenge." The Nation (
Here's a list my publications in English on the subject:
1990 " The Baby-Parts Story. A New Latin American Legend " Western Folklore 49, [special issue edited by Bill Ellis Contemporary Legends in Emergence]: 9-25.
1993 " Demonologies in Contemporary Legends and Panics. Satanism and Baby Parts Stories " Fabula 34:238-251
1997 " Organ Theft Narratives " Western Folklore 56 (Winter): 1-37
" The Diffusion of Organ Theft Narratives " in Joel Best (ed.) Spreading
Social Problems: Studies in the Cross-National Diffusion of Social Problems
"Exterminator" by Jimmy Jellinek.
John M. Bodner
old Tamelka Young, who lived with 10 family members
in a roach-infested housing-project apartment in
[The following was sent to the FTN email account:
I was asked to pass this on, very important warning. Please be careful.
This is forwarded on behalf of Jerry Janes, Emergency Preparedness Canada.
This very shocking!!! No wait I mean disturbing!!!
This is happening in
The Centers for Disease Control reports similar events have taken place in several other cities recently. All of the needles tested HAVE been positive for HIV. The CDC also reports that needles have been found in the coin return areas of pay phones and soda machines. Everyone is asked to use extreme caution when confronted with these types of situations.
All public chairs should be thoroughly but safely
inspected prior to any use. A thorough visual inspection is considered the bare
minimum. Furthermore, they ask that everyone notify their family members and
friends of the potential
This is very important!! Just think you could save somebody's life just by passing this on. Please take a couple of seconds of your time and pass this on.
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