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Shark Terror Attacks at the Beach

Linda enjoys reading, learning and writing about different things. She enjoys sharing her love of writing, history and crafts with others.

Great White Shark Surfacing the Water

July 4th Weekend Summer of 1916

The year was 1916 and it was one of the hottest summers with an ongoing heat wave. It was also the first week of July making it a holiday weekend. Families headed to the beach to spend the holiday relaxing, swimming and enjoying time spent with their families. Little did some of them know, it was also going to be the start of a terrifying week for beach lovers?

Charles Vansant the First Victim

On July 1st 1916, Charles Vansant was a young healthy man looking forward to spending the Fourth of July holiday with his father and sisters. They had arrived to Beach Haven by train from Philadelphia in the afternoon and while the rest of his family checked into a hotel, Charles decided to head to the beach for a quick swim before meeting his family for dinner. It was approximately six o’clock when those on the beach heard him scream and saw he had been attacked. Rescuers quickly tried to reach him but were unable to pull him from the shark. The shark did not let go of the body until the shark was so close to shore that the water was shallow. By that time Charles body was badly torn up. Charles died of blood loss shortly after being moved to a hotel nearby.

Charles Bruder the Second Victim

Five days later on July 6th the shark claimed the second victim. Charles Bruder was a twenty seven year old employee of a local hotel. This attack took place at Spring Lake forty five miles north of the attack on Charles Vansant. Charles took a break from work and went for a quick swim. He was a strong swimmer and was about one hundred and thirty feet from shore when he was attacked. His friends saw the attack and two men grabbed a boat to try to rescue him. When they managed to lift him in the boat, both of his legs were gone. He died in the boat on the way to the shore.

Twelve Year old Lester Stillwell Becomes the Third Victim

On July 12th the man eating shark would claim two more victims and maim a third young boy. The day was hot and several young boys decided to go swimming in Matawan Creek which was sixteen miles inland from the ocean. Who would ever have thought that they would be attacked by a man eating shark in a fresh water creek? Twelve year old Lester Stillwell was swimming with several friends at the Wycoff dock when he was snatched under water by the shark. The other boys were terrified and went screaming for help. Several people from town grabbed a boat and headed to the creek hoping to get to Lester in time to save him. At that time they didn’t realize he had indeed been attacked by a shark. When they knew he had been under water for too long to survive, they started diving in the water in an attempt to recover the body. While doing his last dive Stanley Fisher was also attacked by the shark. The shark tore off most of his leg but the other men pulled Fisher in the boat. He was taken to a nearby hospital where they attempted to stop the bleeding from his severed femoral artery but were unsuccessful. Lester Stillwell had become the third victim and Stanley Fisher was now the fourth victim of the killer shark.

Bull Shark

shark-terror-at-the-beach

Joseph Dunn The Only Survivor

Shortly after this attack at Matawan Creek, the shark had swum further east up the creek and several boys were swimming at the brickyard docks. One of these boys was the shark’s next victim, fourteen year old Joseph Dunn. Joseph Dunn lived in New York but was visiting family nearby. He joined some of his friends that afternoon and they were enjoying the warm weather and the cool water, when they heard someone yell there was a shark nearby. The boys scrambled up the ladder but Joseph was the last to reach the dock and before he could make it to the top, he was attacked by the shark. Several men heard the screaming and managed to get Joseph away from the shark. He was then taken to the same place that Stanley Fisher was being treated at the same time. Joseph was then transported to a hospital in New Brunswick. Joseph was the only victim of the shark who survived.

Shark Hunting

These incidents led to the hunt for the great man eating shark. Normally, shark hunting was forbidden near tourist attraction beaches. Mainly businesses and resorts did not want to frighten off their paying customers by making them think the water might contain sharks close to shore. This would have scared a lot of people from taking their vacation time at the beach.

But now that a shark or sharks had come close to shore and killed four people and maimed a young man, shark hunting was permitted in an effort to secure the swimming areas. Men took their boats and went shark hunting. A couple of hundred sharks were killed and men took great pride in having their pictures taken with a hanging shark. The men that lived near the Matawan Creek used dynamite in the creek in an effort to kill the man eating shark.

Philadelphia Inquirer Headline July 14, 1916

Headlines in the Philadelphia Inquirer on July 14, 1916 concerning the death of a young boy and the man who tried to recover his body

Headlines in the Philadelphia Inquirer on July 14, 1916 concerning the death of a young boy and the man who tried to recover his body

The Capture of a Great White Shark

The newspaper all carried these stories and the public was shocked, scared and angry. They wanted something done to prevent more shark attacks. Even President Woodrow Wilson became involved and gave permission to the Coast Guard to kill sharks. Rewards were also offered for sharks. Finally two days after the last shark attack, July 15th 1916 a great white shark was killed and it was thought that was the shark that had been doing the killing. Today there are questions as to whether it was a great white shark or a bull shark. Bull sharks are known to swim in fresh water such as the Matawan Creek whereas great white sharks will almost never leave the ocean water.

Jaws the Movie

I have never watched the movie Jaws. I hear it was a wonderfully successfully movie inspired by the events that took place in July 1916. But I saw enough of the movie clips that I (like many other people) would never venture more than knee deep in the ocean ever again.

Jaws Movie Killing the Beast

References

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-shark-attacks-that-were-the-inspiration-for-jaws-15220260/

https://historygeographymore.weebly.com/shark-attacks-of-1916.html

http://matawanhistoricalsociety.org/1916-shark-attack/

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/remembering-the-titanic-of-shark-attacks/

https://www.history.com/news/the-real-life-jaws-that-terrorized-the-jersey-shore

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 L.M. Hosler

Comments

L.M. Hosler (author) on March 30, 2020:

Hi Amy

Thanks for the comment. I live on the East Coast also & love the beach. I only go in as far as my knees anymore.

Amy from New England, USA on March 29, 2020:

I'm glad I live on the East Coast and though i love the beach, I never go out deep enough to meet Jaws! :0

L.M. Hosler (author) on March 01, 2019:

Thank you Tom. It is a serious thing to take into consideration when going to far out in the water. But we can't live in fear of what might happen. Shark bites do happen but are not all that common. I think this was an extreme case because this shark traveled out of salt water into a fresh water creek where he killed two of his victims.

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