In the latter part of 1882 and into the first few months of 1883, Dundee had a somewhat alarming visitor “…described as being rather tall, and is generally seen dressed in a long dark cloak, although occasionally he sometimes assumes a luminous appearance, supposed to be due to the inside of the cloak being lined with cloth dipped in phosphorus, and exposed to view. Several yards of crape are also suspended from his hat…” This dark, mysterious figure began appearing in and around the Blackness Quarry area around December 1882, and continued into February of the following year. Reports of the way he walked, or was able to leap in huge bounds earned him the popular moniker, “Springheels”. The situation became so phenomenal in the city, that stories of alleged sightings were ten a penny, with almost everyone knowing someone who had seen “Springheels”.
From children, to the elderly, butchers to policemen, nobody was safe from the man in black. Although many reported seeing him, very few actually reported having any physical contact with him. Stories range from far-off sightings, to alleged exchanges with the perpetrator, some of which are told in Geoff Holder’s ‘Haunted Dundee’. How many of these accounts can be written off as fallacy or attempts for attention is unclear, but it is very plausible that someone was indeed going about the city with the intent of causing alarm.
The name “Springheels” is a common one, and refers to Springheeled Jack, a notorious supernatural entity of the Victorian Era. He was very popular in this time, due to the tales of his bizarre appearance and ability to make extraordinary leaps, to the point that he became written into works of fiction. His eyes were alleged to burn with red fire, his hands clawed, and his features deformed and demonic. With his origins believed to have been in London circa 1837, the legend of Springheeled Jack quickly circulated throughout the lands, with sightings becoming more and more frequent, and in some cases, more aggressive.
Whoever the Dundonian version of Springheels was, William Anderson was the man targeted for the crime, as he had been drunkenly frightening locals whilst “acting the part of a ‘ghost’”. He was charged with a contravention of the General Police Act, and was given a warning. Geoff writes that, after Anderson’s reprimand, Springheels was never seen again in the city.
Get Geoff’s book, “Haunted Dundee” here
Read more about the Legend of Spring Heeled Jack here