Thanks to Pranav for suggesting one of the monsters we’re talking about this week! This episode is rated three out of five bats on our spookiness scale.
Welcome to Strange Animals Podcast. I’m your host, Kate Shaw.
As monster month continues, this week we have a really spooky episode on a topic Pranav suggested a long time ago. I’m rating it three out of five bats, meaning that if you’re one of our younger listeners, you might want to skip this one or make sure to listen to it in the daytime with your favorite grown-ups around you. It’s about the monkey-man of New Delhi, but we’re also going to talk about one of my favorite monsters too as part of it.
In May of 2001, several families made a strange complaint to the police in the city of Ghaziabad in India, near the capital city of New Delhi. A masked man had sneaked into their homes and pushed and scratched people before running away into the darkness. No one was badly injured, but they were definitely scared.
Then other people started reporting something similar in parts of East Delhi. People were left with scratches and bruises caused by a masked man, according to some witnesses. But others said they were attacked by a monkey.
As the reports flooded in over the next few days, the reports got stranger and stranger. The attacker was said to be a man with a monkey-like face, a big monkey wearing skin-tight clothes and a helmet, a creature with black fur and glowing cat eyes, even a robot with metal claws. It could reportedly jump incredibly high and even disappear. No one could agree on what the attacker looked like, but before long everyone was jumpy and ready to run if they even thought the strange creature was nearby. This sadly led to at least two people dying on different occasions when they panicked and tripped down stairs.
The police tried their best to find the culprit, but it was always gone before they arrived. Meanwhile, the news media exaggerated the reports and whipped people into a frenzy of fear. But despite all the sightings, no one ever got even a blurry photo of the so-called monkey-man. When the police questioned people who were supposedly attacked, most of them admitted that they hadn’t really seen anything. Often they only felt the presence of the monkey-man, and later noticed bruises or scratches that might have been caused by ordinary events during the day.
Weird as all this sounds, it isn’t the first time such a strange situation has happened in a big city. In 1837, in London, England, a very similar creature caused a very similar panic. The main difference is that instead of a monkey-man, the London monster was more like a devil, sometimes said to have horns and bat wings. He was called spring-heeled Jack.
Spring-heeled Jack got his nickname because he was supposed to be able to jump incredibly high, as though he had springs in his boots. Some reports said the creature had claws, possibly metal ones, that he could shoot sparks or blue fire from his mouth, that he had glowing red eyes, and that his hands felt cold and clammy like a corpse. Some people even referred to him as a ghost.
The monster was supposed to have attacked young women in particular, scratching them with his claws. In the most famous case, a teenaged girl named Jane Alsop was at home in February 1838 when someone knocked on the door and shouted that he was a police officer who had caught spring-heeled Jack! The officer asked for a light, since it was a dark evening, but when Jane brought a candle outside, instead of meeting a valiant police officer who had caught a monster, she only encountered the monster himself. Spring-heeled Jack grabbed her by the neck!
With the help of her sisters, who heard her screams, Jane was able to tear herself away from the monster with only some scratches on her arms and neck. Spring-heeled Jack bounded away into the night. Another encounter only nine days later happened to eighteen-year-old Lucy Scales, who was returning home with her sister in the evening. As they passed an alley, a man wearing a large black cloak jumped out at Lucy, spat blue flame into her face, and hurried away when she collapsed in shock.
As in India over 150 years later, the newspapers printed sensationalized reports of the attacks that made things even worse. The police arrested various men at different times, but there was no evidence that any of them had attacked the women or had dressed up as spring-heeled Jack. The scratches and bruises reported by victims weren’t actually that bad, and might have been caused by anything. In the end, the reports gradually stopped, although there was a brief revival of reports in the 1870s, over 30 years later.
So what’s going on here? Could spring-heeled Jack and the monkey-man of New Delhi be reports of the same creature or entity, with details differing between the two monsters because of the cultural differences of people reporting those details? Where people in modern India might think they see a monkey-man, because monkeys are common in India, people in old-timey England might have though they saw a demonic man since devils and demons were a common aspect of English culture at the time.
Let’s look at the details that both monsters share. Both are mostly described as being human-like in shape. Both walk on two legs, have two arms and a head with human-like features, or at least primate-like features. This argues that the monsters must be some sort of primate. Spring-heeled Jack in particular was always mistaken for an ordinary man at first, so instead of a monkey, he must have been a great ape, and more likely a hominin, or human or human relation. The reports of the monkey-man of New Delhi are less detailed and more varied, but the initial reports and many later ones called him a man, meaning a human male.
In other words, logically both monsters can’t be extraterrestrial creatures or they wouldn’t look and act so similar to earth creatures. Both also had physical aspects, able to interact with people and things normally, so even though some people called spring-heeled Jack a ghost, he actually seemed to be a living creature. And both seemed to be human, or at least human-like.
Maybe the monsters in both cases were just humans.
Some historians think that both the monkey-man and spring-heeled Jack weren’t real monsters at all but urban legends, and most if not all of the reports were caused by mass hysteria. Mass hysteria is a real condition, although it’s rare, where a group of people become convinced that they’re in danger in some way despite a lack of real evidence. Sometimes the group of people will think they’ve been exposed to a dangerous chemical or poison, and will actually show physical symptoms of illness. The symptoms go away after a while with no lasting health issues, but for the people who feel sick, it’s completely real and very scary.
Mass hysteria happens when rumors of danger get repeated so much that people start to believe the danger even though there’s no evidence that it exists. Newspaper and social media reports contribute to the feeling that danger is imminent, and before long everyone’s jumpy and ready to believe any ridiculous story they hear.
In the case of spring-heeled Jack, the very first reports may have been real attacks on people by someone who was trying to scare them or even rob them. Once rumors and newspaper reports got started, before long people were convinced that a dangerous monster was bouncing around in London terrorizing people.
As for the monkey-man, there are many species of monkey that live in India, including some that have moved into cities as cities grow larger and the wilderness areas grow smaller. As many as 40,000 monkeys live in New Delhi alone, mostly rhesus macaques that often steal food, phones, and other items from people. It’s a brown or gray monkey with a pink face and a short tail, and in its natural habitat it spends most of its time in treetops. The rhesus macaque can walk on its hind legs pretty well, but it’s not very big, rarely weighing more than a domestic cat. It eats fruit and other plant material, and while it can be aggressive to humans, most of the time it’s not dangerous. Not only that, but people who live in Delhi and other cities are familiar with the macaques and aren’t afraid of them.
In other words, it’s not very likely that the monkey-man of New Delhi was an actual monkey. The initial reports might have been of a man who was trying to rob people’s homes, or it might even have started when someone had a bad dream. After that, rumors and media accounts made people think they were in danger from the monster.
The next time you start to hear rumors that people are in danger, and the rumors get wilder and wilder, remember the monkey-man and spring-heeled Jack. Take a moment to look at the situation logically, and decide if it’s more likely that a weird monster with metal claws and the ability to jump as high as a rooftop is really running around scaring people, or if that could be an urban legend. Urban legends are fun, but you don’t have to be afraid of them.
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