Who doesn’t love a good cryptid that also serves as a paragon of the importance of Leg Day?
Luckily, I know that’s not what you are, dear reader so cheers for taking the time to read this exceptionally brief fluff piece about one of my favourite boogeymen, Spring-Heeled Jack.
A brief overview; Spring-Heeled Jack thrived in and haunted the nightmares of those who lived in Victorian era during the First Industrial Revolution in the form of folk tales and the ever so sensational realm of the penny dreadful. The First Industrial Revolution was a monumental time in history which saw the production of goods that had once been painstakingly crafted by hand come to be produced in mass quantities by steam-driven machines in factories, thanks to the introduction of new devices and techniques in textiles, iron making and other industries. In addition to this technology, the topic of worker’s rights, equitable wages and safety policies were being discussed, disputed and deployed into the industry giving those of low means a better work environment and better pay. Of course, this road was not a smooth one and rarely without some source of bloodshed as revolutions tend to be.
However, despite this, as with any season of change there came the inevitable human reaction of fear. Being afraid of change is absolutely nothing new as it has always been the opposing force to any progressive idea proposed throughout history and it continues to be a major aspect of every society. With the workers, seeing these new machines being brought in, they most likely felt threatened, perhaps deep down they felt existential horror; if these hot and metallic monstrosities were the future, did that mean they were the distant past? That they could cease to be once these contraptions had filled up the warehouses? Change is not only necessary, but it is always perceived as a monster of the unknown by those not willing to embrace it, which brings us to my man Jack.
We all know the concept of the boogeyman is the direct fruit which is the result of human paranoia and anxieties, regardless of the epoch. Fairytales once acted as allegories to enforce the obedience of children, Godzilla’s genesis was being the avatar of the indisputable unharnessable power of nuclear destruction while Freddy Kruger represents not only the disparity of communication between the older generation with the new, but also how the sins of one dynasty will heavily impact the next. No matter where you look, the true boogeyman resides in you, me and everybody else.
In the case of Spring-Heeled Jack, he is a clear allegory for this anxiety brought on by the First Industrial Revolution in all of those who worked and/or profited during the time of strictly human-based labor. Spring-Heeled Jack was mostly described by people who claimed to have seen him as having a frightful appearance, with diabolical physiognomy, clawed hands, and eyes that “resembled red balls of fire”. One report claimed that, beneath a black cloak, he wore a horned helmet and a tight-fitting white garment which appeared to be an oilskin. (Note: Oilskin as you may probably know is used as a waterproof garment which was originally manufactured for the use of sailors in the 1700s.)
Many stories also mention a distinctly Christian Devil aspect. Other testimonies noted he was remarkably tall with a lean, sharp face, with the appearance and outward bearing of a typical Victorian gentleman while some even stated that the fiend liked to disguise himself in multitudes of garb so he could pass by the masses unnoticed on his way to his next victim. Several reports mention that he could breathe out burning hot blue and white flames and that he wore sharp metallic talons at his fingertips. At least two people claimed that he was able to speak comprehensible English.
Although Jack liked to hassle many people, he tended to favor the low-level folk the most, with a particular predilection for women (because OF COURSE), with one of the most prevalent testimonies being that of Mary Stevens.
While Mary was walking to Lavender Hill after visiting her parents in Battersea, she was accosted as she crossed Clapham Common by a strange figure who leapt at her from a dark alley. After immobilising her with a tight grip of his arms, he began to kiss her face, as he ripped at her clothes and touched her with invasive iron claws, which were, according to her deposition, “cold and clammy as those of a corpse”. Thankfully, the girl screamed loudly which caused her aggressor to rapidly flee the scene. The commotion brought several concerned residents who immediately launched a search for the aggressor, but he could not be found.
The following day, the fiend was reported to have selected a different victim near Mary Stevens’ home which inaugurated a method that would reappear in later reports: he jumped in the path of a passing horse-driven carriage, which caused the coachman (who was clearly scared shitless) to lose control, crash, and severely injure himself. Although he lived, he no longer drove a carriage after that event in fear of it happening again. Several witnesses to the incident claimed that the attacker had escaped by jumping over a nine foot (2.7 meters for those of you who use metric) high wall while cackling with a high-pitched, shearing and maddening laughter (shearing… like metal on metal?) which rang in the ears of everybody assembled for time to come.
Firey eyes. Infernal breath. Metallic clawed hands. Cold, inhuman grip. Unnaturally high-pitched laughter. An unstoppable creature wearing the clothes of a man but with an inhuman counternance making a mockery of society without regard for law and decency.
Spring-Heeled Jack is arguably the personification of the fear which rode in with the First Industrial Revolution with not only his lurid appearance, but also his behavior; powerful and unpredictable, just like the unusual apparatuses which had begun to dominate the workforce. Spring-Heeled Jack was the exaggerated response to the immortal human terror of change which makes him so compelling to me.
Speaking of which, although there have been a few films which have featured the cheeky son of a bitch, none of them have been worth a damn which makes me tempted to do something about that because the possibilities for the character are endless.
Ya reckon I should?