- Religion and Philosophy
Black Flash of Provincetown: Mysterious Human or Supernatural Being?
He stood nearly eight feet tall. His frame was thin and wispy. He possessed superhuman speed and agility. Belying his gaunt stature, he had unnatural physical strength. His eyes were said to have glowed red. His ears were reportedly pointed. Some witnesses even claimed that he breathed a bluish-hued fire. Dressed all in black, with a bat-like black cape as accessory, his figure engendered fear in all who saw him. Known by the moniker “The Black Flash,” was he a hybrid of several super heroes and villains who had already been created in the pages of fiction? No. The individual described is a purportedly genuine being who mysteriously appeared in Provincetown, Massachusetts in 1938, and proceeded to torment the New England town for seven years thereafter.
It was a late October evening of 1938 when this otherworldly figure was first seen by residents of this tiny village located well out into the North Atlantic. As the local newspaper would report: “ A bizarre entity emerged from the dunes, dressed in black—all in black.” Appropriately, this unsettling and seemingly paranormal visitor had appeared at the ideal place in time for this already rattled little community. Aside from materializing simultaneously with Orson Wells’ legendary War of the Worlds broadcast which unnerved a large segment of the overall American population, The Black Flash arrived on the scene 10 months after a “hideous sea beast that was thirty-five feet long” had washed ashore in the small fishing village. While this leviathan was later identified as the decaying remnants of a basking shark, the townspeople’s imaginations and uneasiness were already fully primed…and awaiting the next visceral sensation.
Histrionic and melodramatic presentation for radio newscasts was the order of the day. Such spoken reports along with sensationalistic newspaper accounts of the day helped to exacerbate the fervor. The Black Flash could effortlessly leap 10 foot fences when being pursued. Witnesses reported a frighteningly maniacal and malevolent laugh emanating from the specter. He seemed to enjoy jumping from darkened alleyways to startle and intimidate innocent passers-by. The appearances of the creature were always accompanied by an unnerving buzzing sound that was similar to what a human-sized flying insect might emanate. Moreover, this phantom was not harmless; the ethereal entity would physically attack if confronted-- as two grown men reported being easily overpowered by him. Similarly, one man reported attempting to punch The Flash after cornering him in a dead end alley. The intimidating being caught the man’s fist, as if gripping a baseball, and proceeded to squeeze his harasser’s hand with superhuman might—all the while laughing eerily. The brave but foolish man ended up on the ground in agony with a badly-injured hand. However, the zenith of alarming tales regarding the bizarre entity portended immortality: after receiving a round from a villager’s shotgun, The Flash jumped to his feet, laughed vociferously, nimbly leapt a high fence, and disappeared. However, it was not just an excitable media that propagated a paranormal explanation for the stranger; government agencies were at a loss to explain accumulated reports.
Upon initiating an investigation into ever-increasing numbers of reports about The Black Flash, the Provincetown Police Department was baffled by what it heard. “A call would come in from the West End that the Black Flash ran through someone’s yard on Tremont Street, and then just a minute later, a call would be placed from Howland Street begging the police to come quickly as now the demon was in the East End.” Such incidents that were conceded by police led to rumors of superhuman speed, teleportation…or flight. Above the other superhuman characteristics of this being, this incalculable speed was the genesis of his media-spawned appellation. As this mysterious being’s fame (or infamy) spread, he also became recognized by other monikers such as the “Phantom Fiend” and “Black Phantom.”
Undaunted, the Provincetown Police Department compiled a suspect list consisting of indigenous young men who were extremely tall, nimble, athletic, and were known as being cut-ups. Needless to say, in a community the scale of Provincetown, this list was inherently short. Additionally, the few suspects who were mustered were eventually cleared. Despite this inability to pinpoint a possible culprit behind the mania affecting their town, the police were finally presented with an opportunity to end the Flash’s reign of terror.
According to lore, one day in November of 1945, anxious reports began to inundate the dispatch for the police department that the Flash had been cornered at the schoolyard by a number of civilians. Four officers arrived on the scene, and found the menace trapped with his back against the ten foot tall fence which surrounded the yard. When the other-worldly figure noticed the officers’ presence; he glared defiantly at them with hands on hips. As the officers began to close in, while warning him not to move, the specter bellowed his now-trademark laugh—and effortlessly cleared the fence behind him with a sudden leap. This apparent god’s simple display of superiority to the average mortals who witnessed it engendered hopelessness in both civilian and law enforcement officer alike. Was this being unstoppable?
Ironically, the most defenseless of victims armed with the unlikeliest of weapons spelled the downfall of the invincible phantom. In December of 1945, four children were home alone when they spied the Black Flash stealthily creeping toward the back of their home. Initially terrified and uncertain what to do, the eldest child retrieved the only potential instrument of defense that he could think of on the spur of the moment…a bucket of hot water. As the frightening intruder stepped onto the back porch and sadistically rattled the doorknob playfully to heighten the fear of the home’s occupants, the brave young man dumped the contents of his bucket directly onto the head and torso of the antagonist. With a clearly audible gasp, the Flash froze and stiffened; then rapidly fled—this time, minus his patented taunting laugh. Intriguingly, this was the last time the Black Flash was ever seen in Provincetown; moreover, he has never reappeared anywhere else either.
As with any such esoteric mystery, the theories behind who or what the Black Flash of Provincetown was are numerous. The superstitious suggest that the Black Flash was the reincarnation of Spring Heeled Jack, a markedly similar being from Victorian-era England. This predecessor possessed the same attributes of the Flash and even dressed similarly. However, this begs the question: who or what was Spring Heeled Jack?
Religiously-oriented people believe that The Black Flash was the personification of a demon that had been loosed on Earth during a time period (World War II, Hitler) when the portal between the planet and Hell seemed to be a yawning chasm. While believers in the paranormal postulate that the mysterious entity was a ghost or phantasm. Then there was the “official explanation” put forth by the police.
Police chief Anthony Tarvers released a statement after the clamor subsided claiming that four local children had perpetrated an original hoax in 1938 around Halloween, and subsequently passed on the gag for others to continue over the seven year timespan. The chief surmised that the two pairs of boys sat on their partners’ shoulders—which created the abnormal height. Elaborate costumes and effects were painstakingly created to complete the image. Carefully coordinated appearances by both sets of boys across town from each other gave the impression of incalculable speed. However, this explanation cannot account for the superhuman strength and agility reported by all of the eyewitnesses. The newspapers and citizenry of Provincetown of the time suggested that the police did not have an answer, and created this solution to the puzzle to calm the nerves of the masses. No other “officially-approved” statements have ever been released regarding The Black Flash of Provincetown.
The baffling riddle of the being that tormented Provincetown for a seven year span will never be solved. As with all of the other mysteries covered in this series, The Black Flash provides endless fodder for speculation and debate. The identity of this World War II era New England phantom will remain an inscrutable mystery….unless he resurfaces in the future.