Remembering 1916 — The summer of the shark at the Jersey Shore
Experts will tell you that the odds of getting bitten by a shark are astronomical, that more people are injured by their toilets every year than by sharks, but for one summer anyway, shark attacks were way to common. In July of 1916, the Jersey Shore was gripped by what has widely been described as “terror” as four people were killed and another injured between the 1st and 12th.
The first attack was in Beach Haven where a 23 year old Philadelphia man, Charles Vansant was attacked while swimming. A lifeguard pulled him to the shore, but he bled to death from a wound in his thigh where the shark had bitten him; he died in the lobby of the Engleside Hotel.
Five days later, off the coast of Spring Lake, Charles Bruder, an employee at a local hotel was attacked. The New York Times reported the shark had bitten off his left leg above the knee and his right leg above the knee. He also bled to death as he was taken to the shore.
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The next two attacks took place in the Matawan Creek near Keyport six days later. Eleven-year-old Lester Stillwell was swimming in the creek with friends. Stillwell was attacked and pulled underwater by the shark. His friends ran to town to get help and one of the men responding, Stanley Fisher, jumped in the creek to try to save Stillwell, but it was too late. The boy was already dead. As Fisher carried the lifeless boy out of the water, the Asbury Park Press writes he was attacked by the same shark. Fisher bled to death at a Long Branch hospital.
The final attack of the summer happened about 30 minutes later in the same vicinity; a 14 year old New York City boy was attacked, and bitten on his leg but was saved by his brother; he was taken to the hospital and, after a lengthy recovery, survived.
The attacks set off a nationwide panic and decimated the tourism industry at the Jersey Shore. Steel mesh fences were installed in the water in some towns to protect swimmers and President Wilson even convened a panel to study the problem. Hundreds of sharks were caught and killed up and down the East Coast.
There hasn’t been a fatal shark attack in New Jersey in almost a century: the last one was in 1926.
The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Bill Doyle. Any opinions expressed are Bill Doyle's own.