Ask many people today to conjure up a mental image of Jack the Ripper, and, the chances are, in many of those images he will be holding a leather bag. Indeed, it is safe to say that, largely thanks to the way the murderer is depicted in films and and television documentaries, the shiny black bag is one of the items of apparel that Jack the Ripper is seldom without.
The bag had become an established piece of ripper folklore in the year of the murders, 1888; as is evidenced by the following letter, which appeared in The Globe newspaper on 24th November 1888, which dealt with what the paper called “…the new danger of carrying a black bag in the East-end.”
HE ATTENDED MARY KELLY’S FUNERAL
The letter was written by a gentleman who, on the 19th November 1888, had, apparently out of curiosity, headed to the East End of London to witness the funeral cortege of Mary Kelly.
It is interesting in that, if the author is to be believed, then the reaction to the funeral from the ordinary people of the district was not the one of universal grief and sorrow that is most frequently portrayed.
The letter read:-
TAKEN FOR JACK THE RIPPER
The record of an afternoon’s experience in Shoreditch may possibly be of use as a warning to such of your readers as are in the habit of carrying about with them that sinister article of luggage – a shiny black bag.
It is hardly necessary to say that mine was the most innocent imaginable, and the contents consisting, as they did, exclusively of papers, would not at the highest calculation have been worth more than eightpence to anybody but myself.
Had I imagined when I got out of the train at Shoreditch station the trouble it would cause, I would certainly have left it in the carriage as booty for the next dishonest passenger.
MUCH AMUSED BY THE CROWD
For a time I was so much amused by the large crowd which had gathered for the obsequies of Mary Jane Kelly, that I never dreamt of being myself an object of attention, especially as I have not hitherto had reason to think that I possessed a particularly murderous looking face.
Yet it occurred to me once or twice that very likely the assassin might be so fascinated by the funeral as to be there in disguise to see the close of his work.
He would have been mad, indeed, however, if he had come with the very bag he is supposed to carry.
It dawned on me, by degrees, that I was an object of suspicion.
REACTIONS TO THE BAG
At the door of a public-house, which, like all the other establishments of the kind in the vicinity, was chokeful of women of all ages, from 17 to 70, a paralytic old crone dropped her gin in terror as I passed, and the light girls in the street glanced suspiciously at my bag out of the corners of their eyes.
Even the poet who was selling his funeral lay for the modest price of a half-penny to the “ladies,” whom he assured “they would find nothing there that would hurt a babby,” seemed to scruple about taking a copper from me.
Some time had passed before I paid much attention to these small indications.
A RAGGED RASCAL
In the centre of the road, however, where the crowd had stopped the traffic, and a gang of roughs had invaded a cart on which they had mounted to view the scene, the cause of all this attention was explained.
A ragged rascal who was smoking a short clay pipe remarked in a distorted spirit of fun,”There’s Jack the Ripper.”
That did not alarm me in the slightest.
On the contrary, I considered it a harmless joke, and in one sense it was convenient.
The impulse of those even who did not believe it was to get out of my way, and I had only to move to find a lane through any part of the crowd. If I had been a leper, they would not have avoided me more carefully.
What was a jest in the centre where it originated was dead earnest before it reached the outskirts of the crowd.
REACTIONS TO MARY KELLY’S FUNERAL
A little respite occurred when the hearse drove up, and the dissipated females who in the public houses had been diluting their beer and gin with maudlin tears, thronged out.
Everything else was forgotten in admiration of the coffin, which, covered with immortels, could be seen through the glass sides of the conveyance.
Look why don’t you look!
Ain’t it lovely!
I told you the body was short!
Were the cries of the female mourners, about 90 per cent of whom had babies in their arms.
Had I gone away then; returned, for instance, to Shoreditch Station, I would have been all right; but I was anxious to see how far the crowd extended, and for that purpose walked in advance of the cortege along Hackney-Road.
It was with difficulty that the policemen could make a way for it.
NO SIGNS OF GENUINE MOURNING
But they were all mere sightseers, and nowhere did I find the slightest trace of mourning, or even of awe.
Those who write as though the people of Whitechapel were as sentimental and sensitive as the scholars at a young ladies’ boarding school have little idea of the callousness which results from the life they lead.
Mr. Barnett does well to have nearly all the pictures in St. Jude’s Church of a calculated to impress the mystery and solemnity of death, for nowhere is it treated with less respect; in spite of the fear they have inspired, I do not believe that this long series of crimes
have impressed, or even greatly shocked, the population.
However, that is a digression.
After getting past Cambridge Heath Station the driver of the hearse quickened his pace, and soon passed out of view; so, after following at a sharp pace for a length of time, I began to look for some means of returning to the City.
A POOR LOCALITY
The locality was a poor one, and, as I seemed to be at the head of a crowd all hurrying after the funeral, I thought it would be as well to diverge from the main street and look about for a cab, an omnibus, a railway train, or some other means of conveyance.
But to get off the route was impossible; at least, so I began to think, for it always appeared as though I were in front of the crowd of squalid mourners.
Until then I had never been directly molested, though I had an uncomfortable and inexplicable sense of being regarded as a suspicious personage.
FOLLOWED BY THE CROWD
When the fact became apparent that I and not the hearse was being followed, I simply walked quietly on my way, hoping against hope either that the crowd would see their folly, or that a cab or a station would turn up.
At last I did see an omnibus, and hailed the driver, but though it was empty he would not take me in, and I did not wonder at it on looking round at my following, who now began to hoot and cry “Jack the Ripper” as loud as they could.
SHE HOUNDED THE OTHERS ON
Still, my equanimity was not disturbed, though there was one woman with a cancer-eaten nose, whom – well, I certainly would not like to hear of another crime, but if there must be a victim I would not be sorry if she were the victim. She hounded the others on, and when after vainly attempting to get some information about a mode of exit from a passer-by, I was surrounded, and in acute danger of being lynched, she seemed by far the most active of the mob.
Evidently she was a thorough coward too, for when I opened the bag in the hope of making one or two friends by showing the innocent contents, she shrank away in fright and continued to egg on the others.
A POLICEMAN COMES TO THE RESCUE
At this very critical moment a policeman, who had seen the crowd break away from the funeral, hurried up; and never was a policeman more welcome. I could have embraced him like a brother, but the crowd put a different interpretation on the business, and thought Jack the Ripper was caught at last.
“How well he carries it off,” they said, as I laughed at the danger attendant upon the possession of a black bag, in the vain hope of disabusing their minds of error.
TO THE RAILWAY STATION
The guardian of order asked me to go into a public-house till he dispersed the crowd; but his efforts seemed only to increase the excitement, and, finally, I was marched down to the station – the railway station – my entrance being greeted by a storm of yells and hooting.
However, the railway people kept the doors shut, and I was saved – though ever since, the feeling has hung about me that I am a suspicious character; and I cannot meet a knot of people in the street without watching whether they eye me or not.
I have given that bag away.
THEY HAD HOPED FOR A REWARD
I may add that about a score of the roughs came into the station with tickets, back to Bishopsgate, and were quite eager to enter into conversation about the adventure.
They peered into the bag with greatest curiosity, and were obviously disappointed with the perfectly innocent nature of its contents.
Upon my representing to them that it was somewhat inconvenient to set upon a harmless pedestrian in the way they had done, they defended themselves with much spirit and ingenuity, alleging that they needed to be vigilant on account of the cleverness and treachery of the assassin, and not denying that their efforts had been stimulated by the hope of reward.
It was the greatest shock of all to find that I had been taken, not in jest, but in reality for a murderer.
“Not that we were sure,” explained the spokesman of the band, apologetically, “but we thought it might come off, and if it didn’t we could get the train back again.”
I enclose my name and address, not for publication, but to let you know that I am
NOT JACK THE RIPPER.
November 19, 1888