Τρίτη, 6 Απριλίου 2010

Spring Heeled Jack, a Victorian Urban Legend

Ο Spring Heeled Jack ήταν μια θρυλική μορφή κακοποιού στη Μεγάλη Βρετανία της Βικτωριανής εποχής στον 19ο αιώνα, που είχε υπεράνθρωπη σωματική δύναμη, κινούμενος ταχύτατα και με τεράστια άλματα σαν να είχε ελατήρια κάτω από τα πόδια του. Η πρώτη αναφορά εμφάνισής του γίνεται το 1837 και οι τελευταίες το 1904. Οσοι ισχυρίστηκαν ότι τον είδαν, τον περιέγραφαν ως μια φριχτή διαβολική μορφή, με γαμψά νύχια και κόκκινα μάτια και αναπνοή που πετούσε φλόγες. Φορούσε ένα φαρδύ μανδύα, κράνος και εφαρμοστή αδιάβροχη στολή. Αυτό που τον χαρακτήριζε ήταν τα τεράστια άλματά του που τον έκαναν να εξαφανίζεται ταχύτατα από τους διώκτες του.

Αναφέρεται ως εγκληματική προσωπικότητα, με συχνές επιθέσεις σε νέες κοπέλες, οι οποίες σώζονταν την τελευταία στιγμή με τραύματα από τα νύχια του. Υπάρχουν δυο τέτοιες μαρτυρίες από πραγματικά περιστατικά. Οι περισσότερες όμως μαρτυρίες είναι απλώς θέαση μιας μορφής με υπερφυσικές ικανότητες κίνησης με τεράστια άλματα, που είτε προκαλούσε λιποθυμικά σοκ από τον φόβο στις γυναίκες, είτε και ατυχήματα αν ο αυτόπτης μάρτυρας ήταν οδηγός άμαξας.

Οι αρχές έβλεπαν με σκεπτικισμό αυτές τις αναφορές, που συχνά είχαν και στοιχεία ασυνέπειας με διαφορετικές περιγραφές της μορφής, όμως η υπόθεση πήρε διαστάσεις και κατάντησε ένας μαζικός παροξυσμός, ανάλογος με τους βρικόλακες και τους λυκάνθρωπους. Πάντως, η μαζική υστερία που προκλήθηκε, τον έκανε ιδιαίτερα δημοφιλή και αποτέλεσε και πρωταγωνιστή σειράς penny dreadful περιοδικών και θεατρικών έργων.

Πολλοί σκεπτικιστές ταύτισαν αυτόν τον θρύλο με έναν εκκεντρικό και μισότρελο ευγενή τον Henry de La Poer Beresford, 3rd Marquess of Waterford που σκάρωνε κακόγουστες φάρσες τρομοκρατώντας περαστικούς, γυναίκες και ταξιδιώτες κατά τη δεκαετία του 1830, περίοδο που έχουμε και τις πρώτες αναφορές για τον Spring Heeled Jack. Οι μετά τον θάνατό του αναφορές μπορεί να είναι απλώς ανακύκλωση του θρύλου του ή και πραγματικά γεγονότα από φαρσέρ που ήθελαν να τον μιμηθούν.

Spring Heeled Jack is a character from English folklore said to have existed during the Victorian era and able to jump extraordinarily high. Spring Heeled Jack was described by people claiming to have seen him as having a terrifying and 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 helmet and a tight-fitting white garment like an "oilskin". Many stories also mention a "Devil-like" aspect. Spring Heeled Jack was said to be tall and thin, with the appearance of a gentleman, and capable of making great leaps. Several reports mention that he could breathe out blue and white flames and that he wore sharp metallic claws at his fingertips.

The first accounts of Spring Heeled Jack were made in London in 1837 and the last reported sighting is said in most of the secondary literature to have been made in Liverpool in 1904. The first report of Jack was from a businessman returning home late one night from work, who told of being suddenly shocked as a mysterious figure jumped with ease over the high railings of a cemetery, landing right in his path. No attack was reported, but the submitted description was disturbing: a muscular man with devilish features including large and pointed ears and nose, and protruding, glowing eyes.

Later, in October 1837, a girl by the name of Mary Stevens was walking to Lavender Hill, where she was working as a servant, after visiting her parents in Battersea. On her way through Clapham Common, according to her later statements, a strange figure leapt at her from a dark alley. After immobilising her with a tight grip of his arms, he began to kiss her face, while ripping her clothes and touching her flesh with his claws, which were, according to her deposition, "cold and clammy as those of a corpse". In panic, the girl screamed, making the attacker quickly flee from the scene. The commotion brought several residents who immediately launched a search for the aggressor, who could not be found.

The next day, the leaping character is said to have chosen a very different victim near Mary Stevens' home, inaugurating a method that would reappear in later reports: he jumped in the way of a passing carriage, causing the coachman to lose control, crash, and severely injure himself. Several witnesses claimed that he escaped by jumping over a nine foot-high (2.7 m) wall while babbling with a high-pitched, ringing laughter. Gradually, the news of the strange character spread, and soon the press and the public gave him a name: Spring-heeled Jack.

A popular rumour that was in circulation as early as the 1840s claimed Lord Waterford was the main suspect behind the "Spring Heeled Jack" phenomenon. However, as that character's acts continued after his death in 1859, Waterford cannot be given sole responsibility.

That Lord Waterford had some role has been accepted by several modern authors, who suggest that a humiliating experience with a woman and a police officer could have given him the idea of creating the character as a way of "getting even" with police and women in general. They speculate that he could have designed (with the help of friends who were experts in applied mechanics) some sort of apparatus for special spring-heeled boots; and that he may have practiced fire-spitting techniques in order to increase the unnatural appearance of his character.

Indeed, Waterford 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; his irregular behaviour and his contempt for women earned him the moniker "the Mad Marquis", and it is also known that he was present in the London area by the time the first Spring Heeled Jack incidents took place. He was also pointed as the perpetrator by the Revd E. C. Brewer in 1880, who attested that Waterford "used to amuse himself by springing on travellers unawares, to frighten them, and from time to time others have followed his silly example".

The vast urban legend built around Spring Heeled Jack influenced many aspects of Victorian life, especially in contemporary popular culture. However, it was in fictional entertainment where the legend of Spring Heeled Jack exerted the most extensive influence, owing to his allegedly extraordinary nature. Almost from the moment the first incidents gained public knowledge, he turned into a successful fictional character, becoming the protagonist of many penny dreadfuls from 1840 to 1904. Several plays where he assumed the main role were staged as well. (Wikipedia)

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