Saturday, August 8, 2009

Jaws in 1916

I watched a riveting documentary on the Discovery Channel this afternoon. "Blood in the Water" premiered on the first day of Shark Week (8/2) and dramatically tells the true story of the first publicized series of shark attacks on the East Coast of the U.S. It happened in 1916 and inspired American author Peter Benchley (1940-2006) to write "Jaws." Headlines screamed the news about the 4 who were killed and 1 who was injured by one or more "sea tigers" (great white sharks or bull sharks) off the coast of New Jersey. The 1st victim, 25-year-old Charles Vansant, was vacationing with his family in Beach Haven when he took a swim with his dog. He was bitten by a shark that stripped the flesh from his thigh, and although he was rescued by a lifeguard, he bled to death on the desk in the hotel lobby. Five days later, 24-year-old Charles Bruder, a bellboy at the Essex and Sussex Hotel (pictured) in Spring Lake was swimming 130 yards from shore when a shark bit his abdomen and severed both legs below the knee (mentioned on the postcard above) . He bled to death in the lifeboat as he was being rowed back to shore and the sight of his injuries caused panic. Less than a week later, 3 attacks took place in a single day up Matawan Creek, 16 miles inland. Lester Stillwell, 11, was swimming near a dock with his friends when he was dragged underwater. The other boys ran for help and when Watson Stanley Fisher, 24, dove in to recover Stillwell's body, he too was attacked. Fisher died at the hospital and Stillwell's remains surfaced 150' upstream. A half-hour later and a half-mile away, 14-year-old Joseph Dunn was swimming in the creek when his leg was bitten, but he was pulled from the shark's mouth by his brother and friend and survived the attack. The sensational reports of the attacks caused terror: beachgoers fled, sharks were hunted, and the fear of the animals infused popular culture and continues to this day.

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