2 weeks, 4 deaths, and the start of America’s fear of sharks


In the twilight of July 1, 1916, 25- year-old Charles Vansant bled to death in a beachfront hotel in New Jersey. Several guys had actually pulled his maimed body from the water.

Five days later on, bellhop Charles Bruder, 27, was killed throughout an afternoon swim along the Jersey Coast. Beachgoers gathered around his legless remains.

The following week, 10- year-old Lester Stilwell was swimming in Matawan Creek (also in New Jersey) with his good friends when he was consumed alive. Naked and covered in mud, the terrified kids diminished Main Street shouting that there was a shark in the water.

But individuals were skeptical. They believed Stilwell, who was epileptic, had actually drowned. Some had actually been dismissive of the newspaper reports that stated sharks had killed swimmers on the coast, due to the fact that Americans at this time were fairly particular … sharks didn’t bite people.

Individuals understood sharks consumed the flesh of other ocean creatures, but there was disagreement over whether they would– or could– reduce a human. But after the attacks in New Jersey in 1916, what were as soon as believed to be frightening-looking yet essentially benign animals ended up being man-eating predators. This new mindset brought usJawsandSharknado, and it’s seen in the reaction to real-life shark attacks. But it took the New Jersey attacks more than a century back to remind people just where they are on the food cycle.







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One of numerous sharks killed after the 1916 string of attacks in New Jersey, envisioned here in thePhiladelphia Inquireron July 15, 1916

When Watson Fisher, a tailor, went into the creek to look for Stilwell, he was assaulted too. He later passed away of blood loss. Half an hour later on, a shark bit 14- year-old Joseph Dunn’s leg. Dunn’s bro and a local sea captain pulled him to safety.

That night, a few of the local men resisted. They tossed sticks of dynamite into the creek.

On the day Stilwell’s body was discovered, President Woodrow Wilson called a Cabinet conference. The White Home accepted offer federal help to “repel all the ferocious man-eating sharks which have been making prey of bathers,” according to a July 14, 1916 short article in thePhiladelphia Inquirer

Ultimately, an eight-foot juvenile excellent white shark was pulled from the New Jersey waters. Its stomach consisted of human remains.

How we used to think about sharks

Millionaire and athlete Hermann Oelrichs made sure that no shark had actually ever bitten a human.

He was so sure that in 1891, Oelrichs offered $500($12,000 in today’s dollars) to anyone who might show him wrong. He was so sure that as soon as, when he hosted a celebration at his seaside home, he leapt in the water with a shark to settle a $250 bet with his visitors, according to an 1891Pittsburg Dispatchshort article.

Some partygoers screamed and covered their eyes. Others called for assistance. However the fish swam away, perhaps frightened by the splash. Oelrichs later on duplicated this stunt on his luxury yacht.

He was not alone. Lots of– though not all– researchers of the day thought sharks were harmless. Reports of American shark attacks were typically dismissed as fisherman’s tales.







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The July 15, 1916Philadelphia InquirerThe capture of a shark in New Jersey ended 2 weeks of panic over a string of attacks, and it changed how many United States locals considered the predators.

According to Michael Capuzzo’s 2001 book on the attacks,Near To Coast: The Scary Shark Attacks of 1916, scientists at the American Museum of Nature in New York cited Oelrichs as clinical evidence that man-eating sharks did not exist.

When John Treadwell Nichols, assistant curator of the Department of Recent Fishes at the museum, examined the body of Charles Bruder, the bellboy killed in New Jersey, he declared a whale, or killer whale, had actually eliminated him, not a shark, composes Capuzzo. A prominent ichthyologist (fish scientist), Nichols did not believe a shark might kill a human.

Some suggested it was an enormous sea turtle, or a school of sea turtles that snapped at Bruder and Vansant, states George Citizen, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research and curator for the International Shark Attack File.

Scientists had a loose grasp on shark behavior.

” There were all type of misunderstandings,” Burgess says. “A minimum of one school of believed at the time was this was all stuff of rumors and fabrications.”

In an August 2, 1915New York City Timeseditorial, “Let United States Justify the Sharks,” consisted of inNear To Coast, the editors composed, “To this day, there is nothing that will so rapidly set a crowd of swimmers scurrying for our beaches as the sight of a shark’s fin in the offing … that sharks can effectively be called hazardous, in this part of the world, is obviously false.”

Citizen says as the bites continued, it eventually became apparent that sharks were assaulting.

The ocean is still wild

Attacks credited to a single shark are incredibly uncommon.

Citizen says he understands of only a handful of other examples, such as a series of attacks off the Red Sea resort Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt in 2010, when one traveler was killed and 3 seriously injured by an oceanic whitetip.

There’s some debate if a bull shark was responsible for the deaths in Matawan Creek due to the fact that they are understood to populate fresh and brackish waters; however, Citizen states the proof points to the young excellent white. (Watch: “Attack of the Secret Shark: Is a Bull or Excellent White Shark the Culprit?”)

The New Jersey shark attacks sent a message to individuals in the United States. They stated the ocean is still wild. Ocean swimming was a fairly new type of entertainment in1916 When Americans embraced it, they took their primary step into the world of sharks. The culture shock was natural, states Citizen.

” It was an unique scenario then, [but] it clearly does not matter where it happens and when,” Citizen says. “Whenever a neighborhood comes across a variety of occurrences in a short time period, the neighborhood reacts basically the very same … The usual order of things is generally fear, followed by denial, followed by vengeance, and after that followed by some reasonable or scientific method to the issue. It’s a timeless and cultural-ist reaction.”

Follow Matt McCall on Twitter.

This story was very first released on June 30, 2016 and updated on June 12, 2019.

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