August 01, 2009

The Black Flash of Provincetown


Here's another post about Provincetown.

Back in October 1938, Provincetown was haunted by a phantom that locals dubbed the Black Flash. Unlike your average ethereal wispy ghost, the Black Flash was nearly eight feet tall, unnaturally strong, and wore all black clothing, including a flapping bat-like cape. To top it off, he had glowing eyes and possibly breathed fire.

Some salient points about the Black Flash's behavior:

1. He could easily leap over 10 foot fences when being chased.

2. He liked to laugh malevolently. Once, after a villager shot him with a shotgun, he laughed AND leaped over a high fence.

3. He liked to jump out of dark alleys and scare people with his giant black cape. Sounds harmless, no?

4. He physically attacked when confronted. Two adult men both claim to have been overpowered by the Black Flash. So, maybe he wasn't harmless.

5. He terrorized P-town for seven years, until December of 1945.

The Black Flash was ultimately defeated by a group of small children. Al, Joey, Eleanor and Louie Janard were playing outside their family's house on Standish Street one foggy December day when they saw the Flash lurking on a hill nearby. Terrified, they ran inside. The Black Flash followed them, rattling the doors. Finally, Louie filled a bucket with hot water and dumped it on the phantom from an upstairs window. With a gasp, the Black Flash ran off. He was never seen again.

This story is recounted in a lot of New England folklore books, but the best account I've read is in Joseph Citro's Passing Strange. Citro in turn got his information from Robert Cahill, the now deceased Salem folklorist.

My general reaction to this story is "What the heck?" You read about a lot of ghosts and witches in New England, but not too many costumed marauders. Maybe the Black Flash was just a prankster, but he kept it up for seven years! (And apparently was immune to gunshot wounds...)

The Black Flash also seems very much like a product of his era. Costumed superheroes and villains first started to appear in the media during the Depression, and were most popular during WWII. His name and appearance remind me of Batman and the Flash, but the Black Flash's actions were a little more villainous.

16 comments:

Dimple said...

Hi!
I found your blog through the NEGHS email newsletter. Interesting post!

Anonymous said...

Very Interesting!!
The Black Flash uncannily fits the description of the Mothman in Pennsylvania--remember the movie with Richard Gere? The movie was based on actual occurrances in Pennsylvanie.

Peter M. said...

I do remember the Mothman movie. I even read the book (The Mothman Prophecies) when I was a kid. It scared the pants off me! I hadn't made that connection before, but you're right about the similarities.

wuezili22 said...

I wonder if this is the kid with the pot of hot water? Look at the third obituary down. http://archive.southcoasttoday.com/daily/09-03/09-06-03/zzzddobi.htm

Peter M. said...

Wuezili22, that's great sleuthing on your part. I wonder if it is him?

theo paijmans said...

Yes, Cahill wrote about the occurrences in Provincetown... however, I was able to find the original accounts, published in a local newspaper in the 1930's.

You can read about it in my article “The Black Flash of Cape Cod: true heir of Spring-heeled Jack” published in Anomalist 13, in 2007.

regards,

Theo

theo paijmans said...

I created a blog to clear up all misconceptions.

"In the late 1930s, a frightening and phantomlike creature plagued Provincetown, Massachusetts. One October evening in 1938, so tradition speaks, a bizarre entity emerged from the dunes, "dressed in black – all in black..." The visitations of the phantom were to last seven years. Then, in 1945, its activity stopped abruptly and the entity disappeared without a trace, never to be seen again. It was named `The Black Flash' because of its supernatural agility. Today, the legend of `The Black Flash' that terrorized Provincetown in the 1930's is remembered as a haunting tale of the bizarre..."

http://blogs.forteana.org/node/130

Sincere regards,

Theo

Peter M. said...

Hi Theo!

Your research is great, and I really like the newspaper article. As you say, sometimes the original sources are very illuminating.

Thanks!

Peter

Anonymous said...

My father grew up in that area. His name was Josesph Janard and his brothers and sister had the same names as the children in the story... were the names true?

alsway said...

YES,THE NAMES WERE TRUE TO THE BOOK,ALL OF THEM.

THANK YOU ALLEN K. JANARD

john fugate said...

Eleanor janard was my mother..allen joey&louie.are my uncles.
My mother told me the story of the B.flash many many times. I lived un the my grandmothers house where the blackfash was defeated. I was the blackflash for halloween against my mothers wishs,she warned me.not to temp, that he may return....two days later im sure it was the blackflash ...chase me and a freind at racepoint beach. Terrified me

Anonymous said...

Hi allen its johnny eleanors son your nephew .my mother is the girl in the story. She told me the blackflash story many many times. I once dress as him for halloween against her wishes. The story is true. And I have more to ad about the strange dune goul.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like he was https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spring-heeled_Jack

Anonymous said...

West Virginia

Anonymous said...

Slenderman

Davie said...

Its more like Spring heeled jack than anything else.

Just a passed on myth from the mothership (uk)