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Spring Heeled Jack and the Monkey Man: Parallels Between Panics?

On May 13, 2001 — a day often regarded among the superstitious for the poor luck it may bring — reports of a strange animal began to appear in areas around New Delhi, India. At least fifteen residents reported encountering a creature that day, leaving several of them frightened, and some even suffering bites or other injuries.

Two days later, more reports began to emerge that involved a small group who claimed they had been chased by what they called a “monkey man”. While none of them were injured this time, one of the escapees, a pregnant mother, had reportedly fallen down a stairway during the ensuing panic.

Ape man

The next disturbances would stem from the nearby town of Noida, where one man reportedly fell from a building while attempting to evade New Delhi’s strange new phantom attacker. By May 18, a passing motorist was mistaken for the monkey-like beast, as well as an elderly Sadhu, each of whom were attacked by fearful New Delhi residents.

At first glance, the so-called Monkey Man of New Delhi appears to be similar in description to the modern creature known as Bigfoot, as well as its anthropomorphic cousins around the world. However, there are a number of odd details underlying the Monkey Man story that suggest there may be more to this story, if not at very least some “mystery monster” as was reported.

Examining the wave of reports in contrast to religious traditions in the region, one might liken the “Monkey Man” to being some manifestation of the Indian god Hanuman, who traditionally bore aspects of both man and ape in appearance.

hanuman

While a few reports described a gangly creature several heads taller than the average man, generally the creature was said to be little more than four-feet-tall, which bears more resemblance to reports of “hairy humanoids” from UFO literature of the last several decades (particularly throughout the 1960s and 70s).

Strangest of all had been the fact that, in many cases, the so-called “Monkey Man” hardly resembled any monkey at all. Reports of the beast varied greatly, despite never failing attribution to the same “monkey” from case to case, ranging from a bandaged, “mummy-like” fiend, to that of an odd, mechanical entity more like a robot. In a number of reported cases, the creature, while maintaining many of its primate-like features, was said to have worn a metallic helmet, in addition to having an armored breastplate and gloves fitted with sharp claws.

In the latter description, the “beast” of New Delhi begins to bear a remarkably close resemblance to the famous Spring Heeled Jack, who according to the traditional folklore of England began to appear in parts of Great Britain in the late 1930s. One famous instance, resulting from public outcry in the aftermath of Spring Heeled Jack encounters, recounts the Lord Mayor of London, Sir John Cowan, speaking to the public in January of 1838, addressing an anonymous complaint from one “resident of Peckham”, who shared the following unusual description of the alleged monster:

“It appears that some individuals (of, as the writer believes, the highest ranks of life) have laid a wager with a mischievous and foolhardy companion, that he durst not take upon himself the task of visiting many of the villages near London in three different disguises — a ghost, a bear, and a devil.”

Indeed, the famous “devilish” appearance attributed to the Leaping Lout of London had not been the only guise this mischief-maker had taken, as the Peckham resident describes: other reports described it having a more beastly appearance, much like that of a bear that could walk on two legs.

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If we ponder this for a moment, we might first ask why this creature had been described as resembling a bear, rather than a large ape or a gorilla? The answer may lay in the fact that, while vivid descriptions of “wild people” had already existed for centuries, the modern recognition of the western gorilla species would not come about until 1847, based upon Liberian specimens obtained by Thomas Savage and his naturalist companion, Jeffries Wyman. Hence, the “bear-like” description may be, in part, a result of a lack of familiarity with larger ape species among those in Britain at that time. As for what the “creature” may have been intended to resemble (especially if we follow the notion supposed by many at the time, which held that the “beast” was actually someone perpetrating a costumed prank), we need not look any further than the reports of so-called “Woodwoses” in the earlier folklore of the British Isles, which reveal the very prevalent imagery of wild men said to exist throughout the region’s wooded areas.

Can any connections be drawn between the reports of such creatures, which bore very similar strange characteristics, despite appearing nearly two centuries apart from each other? The prevailing modern interpretation of both sets of incidents today would seem to rely on the notion that a mass panic had resulted, possibly as a result of local pranksters at work.

However one chooses to interpret the stories, their similarities do beg some interest, especially in the realm of social movements, and the cultural ideas that shape our notions about the unexplained.

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Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.
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