The Story of Stingy Jack

How the Jack O’Lantern Got its Name

The eerie glow of a Jack O’Lantern set on a darkened window sill, or front porch is a familiar sight at Halloween. But how did the Jack O’Lantern get its name?

The answer can be found in an old Irish myth about a wretched man named Stingy Jack.


The Story of Stingy Jack

In an age now lost in the mists of time, there was a fellow called Jack.  Jack was well known in the Irish hamlet where he lived.  When villagers gathered for a gossip, the words honesty, integrity and charity were never spoken when speaking of Jack.  Inebriate, liar and cheat, however, were often heard.


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 Jack was a swaggering drunkard who prided himself on never having earned a respectable living. Trickery and theft were the tools of his nefarious trade, and when money crossed Jack’s palm, it rarely saw the light of day again.  It stayed tucked away in Jack’s trouser pockets along with a small silver crucifix and some turnips, his favourite food.  It was because of his meanness that the villagers bestowed upon him the nickname ‘Stingy Jack.’

A Sobering Encounter

The Devil and Daniel Webster photo TheDevilandDanielWebster_zps4ec582eb.jpg
On a cold, rainy night, the Devil visited Stingy Jack’s village in search of a soul to bring back to his fiery abode.  He had heard of Stingy Jack’s deceitful ways and thought him a suitable candidate. Knowing Stingy Jack’s love of drink, the Fallen Angel proceeded to the village’s public house.

Old Nick stood inside the entrance while his eyes adjusted to the dimly-lit pub interior.  He soon spotted Stingy Jack at the bar staring bleary-eyed into his pint and sat next to him.

‘You’re Stingy Jack,’ said the Devil.  ‘I believe you to be a contemptible character. You’re a drunk, a thief, a whoremonger and…exactly the sort I’m looking for on this bitter evening.’

Stingy Jack, struggling to focus his eyes, turned to the insolent visitor who criticized him. His vision cleared when he realised the stranger was none other than Satan himself. Sensing the reason for Old Nick’s visit, Stingy Jack came up with a plan.

Falling back on his innate charm, Stingy Jack replied, ‘I know who ye are and why you’ve come.  You mean to take me to the City of the Damned. Well, alright then. I admit I’ve led a wicked life, and there is no one here that would say different. But before we go, would you do me the kindness of joining me a farewell drink. I know you to be a gentleman and would not deny me this.’

Flattered, Old Nick agreed. 


Deals with the Devil

When it came time to settle the bill, Stingy Jack turned to Old Nick and said, ‘I’ve no coin on me to pay with.  But, I do have a clever plan.  Isn’t it true you can turn yourself into any shape you wish?’

‘Tis true, yes,’ the Devil concurred.  ‘Why do you ask?’

‘If you were to turn yourself into a sixpence piece, I can give you to the landlord in payment for our drinks.  Then, when the time is right, you turn yourself back and meet me outside.’

Old Nick smiled.  ‘That is a clever plan, Jack.  I believed you’ll make a fine addition to the ‘family’.

With that, Old Nick transformed into a coin of the realm.  Stingy Jack grabbed the coin, put it in his pocket and left the pub.

Incensed at the change of plans, Old Scratch tried to resume his true form but was unable due to the silver cross in Jack’s pocket. He alternated between promises of dire punishment and pleadings to be set free.

Stingy Jack pressed his advantage and proposed a bargain. He would release Old Nick return for a promise not to be troubled.  Should Stingy Jack die before the year ran out, Old Nick could not claim his soul. Outraged at Jack’s impudence, the Devil refused.  Prolonged confinement with the crucifix, however, convinced him to accept Jack’s terms and the deal was struck.  Stingy Jack pulled the sixpence from his pocket and tossed it onto the ground.

Old Nick resumed form and glared at Jack.  ‘Very well.  I will leave you for now, Jack.  But mark ye well, I will return for you in one year’s time as agreed.’  Before Stingy Jack could reply, the air grew foul with the stench of brimstone, flames rose high into the night and the demon vanished.


More Deals with the Devil

Pact with the Devil photo

Exactly one year later, Old Nick returned.  He found Stingy Jack collecting turnips, unbeknownst to the farmer.

‘I have come for ye, Stingy Jack as I said I would,’ said Old Nick.

Although surprised by Satan’s sudden appearance, Stingy Jack quickly regained his composure.  ‘So you have,’ replied Stingy Jack.  ‘I will honour our bargain. But first—‘

‘Enough of your treachery, Human,’ growled Old Nick. ‘We go now!’

‘I was merely going to ask,’ stalled Stingy Jack, ‘if I could have one last meal. Every condemned man is given one last meal. Surely, you wouldn’t begrudge me that?’

‘Fine,’ replied the Evil One through clenched teeth. ‘What do you wish?’

‘I desire an apple,’ replied Stingy Jack. ‘A bright, red, juicy apple that grows on the topmost branches of that tree. Unfortunately, since we last met, I have done myself an injury, and I am unable to climb.  Would you mind terribly fetching it for me?  I will have my last meal, and I then go with you as promised.’

Old Nick, forgetting how troublesome apples can be, clambered up tree.  As he climbed, Stingy Jack busied himself carving a large cross into the treebark.  Old Nick was unable to descend from the tree.

Furious at being duped again, Old Nick bellowed, ‘Free me at once, Stingy Jack. You will keep our contract!’

‘I will let you down,’ said Stingy Jack, ‘on one condition. You will not bother me for ten years. And, again, should I die before then, you will not claim my soul.’

‘You dare to barter with the Prince of Darkness,’ Old Nick cried. ‘I will not agree to this!’

‘As you wish,’ replied Stingy Jack, walking away from the tree.

Gnashing his teeth in frustration, Old Nick once again agreed to Jack’s terms and another deal was struck.


Stingy Jack Goes on a Binge

With the threat of eternal damnation eliminated, Stingy Jack became more unchecked in his reprehensible conduct.  He turned into a one-man crime wave, robbing from homes and farms alike.  He kept what he liked and fenced what he didn’t for a tidy profit.

Stingy Jack moved into a room above the pub and spent his days drinking, gambling and patronising the ‘ladies’ that frequented such establishments. True to his niggardly nature, he only settled his accounts when his creditors threatened him with physical violence.


 Gamblers by Thomas Rowlandson photo GamblersbyThomasRowlandson_zps783d00ff.jpg


Hazard Room by Thomas Rowlandson

Stingy Jack Gets His Comeuppance

Indulgence in this unhealthy lifestyle soon brought Stingy Jack’s days on Earth to a premature end.

He first attempted to pass through the Pearly Gates but St. Peter turned him away as Heaven would not accept such a dastardly miscreant. With Paradise out of his reach, Stingy Jack made his way to the only option available.

‘Well, well, well,’ Old Nick mocked as he spied Stingy Jack’s approach.  ‘Who do we have here? You look like a fellow I once knew; a fellow who thought himself more clever than I.  Could this possibly be my old friend Stingy Jack?’

‘Tis I,’ said Stingy Jack miserably.

‘And what brings you to my abode? As I recall, you were adamant about never setting foot here.’

‘Upon my death,  I ventured to the Pearly Gates but St. Peter drove me off.  I lived a sinful life and threw away my chances for salvation.’

‘Pity,’ Old Nick replied with no pity whatsoever.  ‘And what, precisely, does that have to do with me?’

‘I’ve come to ask you to let me in as I have nowhere else to go.’

‘Tempting as that sounds, me old Matey, you seem to have forgotten our agreement.  You crossed over before the ten years had run out.  Therefore, I cannot claim your soul.’

‘But…but what shall I do? Where shall I go?’

‘You can go back where you first came from; tis no concern of mine.’

Stingy Jack cast a glance at the path leading back to the land of the living.  It was dark and winding. Without help, Stingy Jack would surely lose his way.

‘Can I at least have something to light my way,’ asked Stingy Jack.

Eager to be rid of Stingy Jack, Old Nick tossed an ember from the Hellfires towards him and sent him on his way.  Stingy Jack reached into his pocket and pulled out a turnip. He hollowed out the inside and cut some holes in the skin.  He then placed the glowing coal inside the turnip. With his crude lamp, he found his to his village. He was forever cursed to roam the Earth with his humble lantern lighting his way.


By Geni at
en.wikipedia [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-2.5], from Wikimedia Commons

The Jack O’Lantern Gets its Name

‘Jack of the Lantern’ was the name given to Stingy Jack’s ghostly apparition.  As time passed, it was shortened to the familiar ‘Jack O’Lantern’.
Immigrants from Celtic countries brought the tradition of carving turnips to create Jack O’Lanterns to the new world.  They switched to native pumpkins as they were easier to carve.  Jack O’Lantern now refers to the carved pumpkins we see at Halloween.

Jack O' Lanterns Lit Up at Night, Kirkland, Washington State, USA photo panoramic-images-jack-o-lanterns-lit-up-at-night-kirkland-washington-state-usa_zpse41bc2c1.jpg


Jack O’ Lanterns Lit Up at Night, Kirkland, Washington State, USA

Pumpkins and More
The Legend of Stingy Jack



Photo Credits

All Posters
Wikimedia Commons



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