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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