Advertisement from Eagle comic, 1960s.
People nowadays complain a lot about health and safety regulations, but really… would you want your child or anyone who was near to your child taking “larger-than-life” steps in these? Nothing could be further from the space age and from being “like an astronaut on the moon” than two industrial springs welded to the bottom of crude (and probably razor-sharp) metal plates, held on with what look very like cat collars if the illustration is at all accurate. Oh well, at least in Britain the spring-heel ‘Jacks’ may have cost you 22’6 and possibly the use of your legs, but the trip to the local Accident and Emergency department was free!
Somebody was evidently thinking of the Spring-heeled Jack of popular Victorian culture, as seen in the Penny Dreadful cover above. From a few relatively restrained reports in and around London in the 1830s of a weirdly costumed pervert who leapt away and disappeared rapidly, Spring-heeled Jack quickly spun off into popular fiction, folklore, mass hysteria and numerous copycats. In the 21st century we’d say he went viral, and in the process he grew claws, wings, glowing eyes, skin-tight clothes, the ability to breathe out strange gases or fumes, and other typical attributes of a malevolent folkloric figure.
Sporadic sightings continued throughout the country until the turn of the twentieth century. Usually these incidents followed the template set down during the initial attacks: a masked or helmeted figure appearing seemingly out of nowhere with the apparent intent to terrify, grabbing and/or molesting the victim, then springing away over a wall or hedge. A number of copycats were sought by the police, arrested and a few convicted for overt SHJ attacks or for mostly unrelated ones that happened to fit in some way with the popular SHJ narrative. No actual, verifiable, “real” Spring-heeled Jack was ever caught or identified.
Mike Dash wrote a very comprehensive paper about Spring-heeled Jack, if you’re interested in reading more about the subject. He seems to be one of the only people to actually go back to primary, contemporary sources and do some sensible research, instead of just regurgitating half-remembered Big Book of the Supernatural anecdotes.
Dash also wrote a really fascinating and entertaining book called Tulipomania a few years ago, about the eponymous craze and ensuing financial bubble that resulted from tulip bulbs becoming a hysterically sought after commodity in the 17th century. His blog is good, too.
Get your spring-heel ‘Jacks’ here, boys! Only 22’6. Ideal for a evening of hiding in the bushes and sexual assault. (Eyes like glowing coals from Hell not included.)