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By: Alex Postrado
The Black Flash of Provincetown: The Leaping Devil Of The Dunes
Provincetown, Massachusetts is no stranger to the spotlight.
In November 1620, it became the first spot on Cape Cod to be faced with the Pilgrims aboard the English ship Mayflower.
In the 19th century, it was one of the busiest whaling and fishing hotspots in all of America.
And today, it is among the most open and accepting vacation destinations on the U.S. East Coast — hosting roughly 60,000 people each summer.
But, on a year-round basis, Provincetown’s population only averages around 3,000.
A fitting reminder that, as much as it is everything else mentioned earlier, it is also a small, secluded town that “sits undisturbed” for most of the year…
Well, except for that one strange time in the fall of 1939!
The time when the mysterious Black Flash wreaked fear and turmoil in the otherwise restful town at the tip of Cape Cod.
What Happened in the Fall of 1939?
Children cry for all sorts of reasons.
However, in October of 1939, in Provincetown, Massachusetts, kids bawled due to an unusually eerie cause — one that allegedly involved an encounter with a menacing, Reaper-like figure!
As the stories go, some local P-town children were on their way home from school one day, when a tall and scary monster, dressed in all black, suddenly leaped in front of them.
It reportedly looked at them briefly with its glowing eyes — which, some say were silver-blue, and others, red — before it laughed maniacally and quickly fled the scene.
Understandably, the children were startled — perhaps, even horrified.
But, they could not do anything else about it because the figure took off just as fast as it appeared.
The kids hurried home — trembling in fear of what they saw.
Was it a ghost? A demon? The Reaper, himself?
Or an interdimensional being that humans have not heard of before?
To the adult residents of the sleepy, seaside town, it was pure imagination.
Perhaps, caused by the increasing chill in the air brought by nearing Halloween.
The Sighting That Got Massachusetts Attention
The children may only be “scaring themselves” with their imaginations when they reported their unearthly experience to the grown-ups of Provincetown, but it was certainly not the case when it was Mary Costa’s turn to relate her encounter with the same shadowy entity.
If anything, her story made the adult citizens of the small township start to pay close attention.
One climacteric evening, later that October month, young local Mary Costa, was passing by the Town Hall when — all of a sudden — a strange figure — similar to that of the children’s accounts — jumped out from the bushes and in front of her.
For a few moments, it simply stared at Costa.
But, the woman was too deep in shock to process anything that was happening.
Soon — and without any warning — the creature leaped high into the air. Then it rapidly jumped away, over and over, until it was completely — and finally — out of the woman’s sight.
At that point, Costa knew she had to run for her safety.
It was clear that the encounter was nothing of the ordinary. And so, it left her sprinting to the nearest coffee shop from where she saw the mysterious monster.
As soon as Costa told the men in the shop about the horror she came across, they immediately tried to go after it.
Unfortunately, it was too quick for anyone to catch.
With that, they instead decided to alert the police and report the incident. It may not have initially caught the urgent attention of the officers, but it was Costa’s encounter that surely laid the first stone for the countless other reports that soon followed.
In the succeeding weeks, the number of similar reports surged in the then anxiety-stricken Provincetown.
What added to the people’s sense of unease was the thought that the summer crowds have long returned to their own cities. Thus, the year-rounders were left only in the company of one another.
They shared their firsthand experiences, along with the rumors they heard about the looming creature, which they called the Black Flash.
At one point, Chief of Police Anthony Tarvers even claimed that he had already identified and reprimanded the four pranksters that he said were behind the bizarre incidents in town.
However, as expected, some people were doubtful.
To them, the Black Flash seemed to be an entity that was — in many ways — apart from any human being.
And points to remember about it are as follows:
- It is inhumanly tall — about eight to ten feet;
- It has glowing eyes and a pair of pointed, silver ears;
- It is always dressed entirely in black, sometimes with some sort of a cloak or cape;
- It typically lets out a “weird buzzing” sound like that of a bee;
- It appears out of nowhere;
- It departs by jumping away;
And it is unbelievably quick in doing so.
Though, still not too fast for other places not to take notice.
In no time, even people from nearby towns were also already talking about the Black Flash.
At that point, it was considered to be “the most feared entity in the region“.
And people began calling it other names, too, like, “The Black Phantom“, “The Phantom Fiend“, “The Provincetown Phantom“, and “The Devil of the Dunes“.
Shining a Light on the Legendary Black Flash
When the story of the Black Flash reached other parts of the country, people who knew about southern England’s Spring-heeled Jack could not help but notice the vague similarities between it and Provincetown’s infamous dark fiend.
Both were “extraordinarily agile“.
Both “could jump unnaturally high“.
Both have eyes that “resembled fireballs“.
And both were somewhat ghost- or devil-like in their own ways.
But occult historian and researcher Theo Paijmans — who spent years studying both the Black Flash and Spring-heeled Jack — deduced that there really wasn’t much foundation on the belief that the two beings were actually related.
Instead, Paijmans suggested that the implied similitudes were likely added overtime to elevate the Black Flash story and make it more interesting — entangling the two lore’s details despite the events in Provincetown happening nearly a century after the last known attack of Spring-heeled Jack took place in the U.K.
Another thing — although unrelated to Spring-heeled Jack — that Paijmans shed light on in his extensive investigation of the topic was the fact that the Black Flash sightings only lasted for several weeks — not years, unlike what others claim.
Despite some accounts alleging that the last Phantom Fiend attack in Provincetown happened in November 1945, Paijmans clarified that details like these were — oftentimes — only embellished into the original timeline by certain narrators.
Why and how did they easily do it?
Well, because for about 45 years, the legend of the Black Flash remained an oral tradition — told only through word of mouth.
Therefore, every speaker of the story has the power to simply add or erase elements to and from the narrative — whether deliberately or not.
Even folklorist Robert Ellis Cahill’s 1984 book, titled New England’s Mad and Mysterious Men — deemed to be the introduction of the Black Flash in literature — as well as author Joe Citro’s work, Passing Strange, both have conflicting details from other versions of the lore, despite being a pair of really great reads.
Unsurprisingly, the same goes for other renderings of the Black Phantom story.
Details generally vary — making it hard for us, nowadays, to figure out where to dig if we wanted to learn about what truly happened in the fall of 1939, as well as where the Black Flash actually originated from.
But, perhaps, answers do hide in plain sight, sometimes!
An Era of Panic
You see, 1939 was a specifically anxious and strange year for Provincetown.
The townsfolk started off their year with the news of a 35 feet long “sea monster” discovered on the shore near Wood End.
Although they later determined it to be a “decomposing basking shark“, the supposed anomaly had already set the tone for what to possibly expect throughout the remainder of the year.
Funnily enough, the ensuing months also did not help alleviate the worries felt in all of Provincetown.
Cases of “dog bites and stray cats” peaked at an all-time high in the subsequent weeks;
In September, forty-year-old local Joseph Viera was jailed for the series of “arson attacks” that he committed;
Moreover, the “realistic” and mass panic-inducing radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel about a Martian invasion, called The War of the Worlds broadcast, had only been recently pulled out of radios countrywide;
All while New England struggled to recover from the Great Depression;
And amid the looming sense of another war breaking out — with Provincetown gearing to face some very real monsters that circled their waters: the Nazi submarines.
Add all of these things up and you’ve got yourself the formula for a brand-new boogeyman!
In this case, the Black Flash of Provincetown.
An elusive creature that, while some, believe was threateningly real, others say was just another monstrosity, birthed from the collective unconscious fear of a town “ripe for a spot of trickery“.
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