One hundred years ago, a series of shark attacks over a 12-day period in July along the Jersey Shore stirred up fears of unseen dangers lurking beneath the waves that still haunt the beach-going public to this day.

The attacks occurred in a sparsely populated region, with the largest town, Matawan, home to a population of less than 2,000 people in 1916 (less than 9,000 today). Still, the events an international sensation even in an era where print carried the news.

The first to fall prey to what was initially an unknown menace was 25-year-old Charles Vansant, who had taken to the water on the evening of July 1 in the town of Beach Haven. Vansant was bitten, and though a lifeguard eventually pulled him out of the water, he succumbed to his wounds. Five days later, another fatal attack in Spring Lake claimed the life of 27-year-old Charles Bruder.

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One week later, in Matawan Creek, a shark attacked and killed 11-year-old Lester Stillwell as well as 24-year-old Stanley Fisher, mauled while swimming in an attempt to pull the boy's remains from the water. That same day, no more than a half hour later, 12-year-old Joseph Dunn was also bit, but managed to survive.

Initially, no one knew what was behind the attacks. Up until that July, many scientists believed that sharks would never harm humans, according to the Associated Press.

Some thought it might be a giant sea turtle or a killer whale. Early reports out of some newspapers made use of the terms "sea monster" or "sea wolf." Even more far-fetched explanations even suggested German U-boats were firing off torpedoes at bathers.

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Only gradually, as the attacks mounted, was the evidence that a shark was the culprit undeniably, particularly after more than 100 bystanders saw Fisher fight off a shark. This forced marine biologists to revise their ideas on shark predation.

Word of the shark attacks made front-page news alongside stories marking the progress of World War I. The events left such an imprint that decades later they even inspired the 1974 book and subsequent film "Jaws."

What did the locals do once they realized a shark was behind the attacks? Naturally, they fought back. In an interview with Smithsonian Magazine, ichthyologist George Burgess explains the pattern:

When shark attacks occur, there is obviously shock. Then, the second phase is denial--denial that it was done by a shark. It has to be done by something else. The third phase is the feeling that if we shuffle it under the rug, maybe it will disappear. The fourth phase is realizing that none of those things are working and that we probably need to go kill some sharks. Then, in the fifth phase, the reality sets in, finally, that that's not the solution and we probably ought to bring in a scientist that knows what's going on.

Because the Jersey Shore attacks were the first of their kind, the public went a little overboard with the shark-killing part, with hundreds of the animals dying as a result of a region gripped by a shark panic. The fear led to armed patrols, shark bounties and even proposed federal legislation aimed at shark eradication in New Jersey.

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A cloud of mystery still hangs over the events of that summer in New Jersey. No one knows what kind of shark was behind the attacks, whether it was a bull shark or a great white, or why it seemed to target humans repeatedly.

That lack of conclusiveness and that sense that danger could still be out there, even though we know now shark attacks are exceedingly rare, keeps the memory and the horror of the Jersey Shore attacks alive today.