The old familiar rhyme reads, “Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack jumped over the candle stick.” Whether it be a wicked Jumpin’ Jack the likes of which once terrorized Victorian England, or more obscure references to a leaping World War II era “Spring Man” in Czechoslovakia, circumstances involving fiendish beings with uncanny leaping prowess are some of the most obscure stories to stem from Fortean circles. Arguably, these reports are also some of the most interesting a wide-eyed researcher may trouble himself to uncover–but don’t be fooled: these Jacks are far more adept at jumping than merely what’s required to bounce across a candle’s flame.
Perhaps the best known among legends of leaping devils are those involving London’s Spring Heeled Jack, the famous phantom attacker whose extraordinary physical abilities helped secure his peculiar title. Sightings of a devilish-looking man–often dressed in various macabre or otherwise bizarre-looking clothing or armor–date back to 1837, when a businessman returning from work reported seeing a wicked-featured man leap over a nine-foot wall surrounding a cemetery. Though he was startled by the encounter, the witness did not report being harmed by the strange being he met during his walk home that evening. With time however, the curious interloper’s startling physical features would be the lesser of the evils associated with his appearances.
Though a variety of curious instances involving the high-bounding brute would occur in the following weeks, the most well-recognized case involving Spring Heeled Jack took place on the evening of February 19th, 1838, when young Jane Alsop answered the door to find a darkly-clad figure in a long cape standing outside her father’s home. The man, who claimed to be a police officer, asked young Alsop to fetch a lantern, saying he and his company had captured the infamous Spring Heeled Jack nearby. Upon returning, candle-in-hand, to assist in her sudden civic duties, Jane was accosted by the man; shrugging off his cloak, a ghastly, helmet-clad face with bulging red eyes was revealed. The demonic appearance of Alsop’s assailant was only fortified as the character “vomited forth a quantity of blue and white flame from his mouth,” while grabbing at her garments with metallic claws that were somehow fixed to his hands. English scholar and father of classical conservatism Edmund Burke wrote of the incident in the 1839 Annual Register of World Events: A Review of the Year:
She screamed out as loud as she could for assistance; and by considerable exertion got away from him, and ran towards the house to get in. Her assailant, however, followed her, and caught her on the steps leading to the hall door; when he again used considerable violence, tore her neck and arms with her claws, as well as a quantity of hair from her head: but she was a length rescued from his grasp by one of her sisters. Miss Alsop added, that she had suffered considerably all night from the shock she had sustained; and was then in extreme pain, both from the injury done to her arm, and the wounds and scratches inflicte dby the miscreant on her shoulders and neck, with his claws or hands.
The spectral bully, according to one of Alsop’s sisters, “kept knocking and ringing at the gate after she had dragged her sister away from him, but scampered off when she shouted from an upper window for a policeman.” Burke also notes that the fiend left his cloak laying where it had fallen, “which someone else picked up, and ran off with.” Could Jack have had an accomplice with him that terrifying evening?
Though a variety of logical conclusions were presented as to the identity of Spring Heeled Jack, including the sometimes rowdy Henry de La Poer Beresford, 3rd Marquess of Waterford, none of the theories offered can account for the super-human leaping abilities witnesses claimed Jack was able to perform. Additionally, had the actions of the assailant in Jane Alsop’s case been the result of a fraternity of high-society punks placing bets against one another (the summation of yet another theory alleged to involve Beresford, the so-called “Mad Marquis”), it seems odd that the character had managed to “vomit flames” while engaging in an almost masochistic assault against the girl with his metallic claws. Could there be more to this mystery after all?
Nineteenth century London was not the last locale to be associated with a leaping phantom. During World War II, stories of a similar character began to emanate from Prague, Czechoslovia. Dubbed “Pby