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100 Years Ago Something Horrific Happened In New Jersey… And It Will Never Be Forgotten.

On July 1st, 1916, Charles Epting Vansant (25) was pulled under the water while vacationing in Beach Haven. No one expected a shark and lifeguards were slow to respond; initially they believed he was screaming for his dog. Nothing like this had ever happened in the area, and shark attacks anywhere were quite uncommon.

While Vansant was eventually pulled from the water, he bled to death. On July 6th, Charles Bruder (27) was attacked while swimming 130 yards from the shores of Spring Lake. Lifeguards rowed out to rescue him, but he did not survive.

The most surprising series of attacks occurred 100 years ago today. On July 12th, a group of young boys was attacked in the Matawan Creek near Keyport. Due to the northern inland location, residents were skeptical of an attack happening here. When a local sea captain claimed to have spotted a shark in the creek, his reports were dismissed as panic.

Later that day, Lester Stillwell (11) was dragged below the water’s surface. Several ran into the water to save him, believing he had a seizure. Watson Stanley Fisher (25) attempted to rescue the boy but was bitten in the process. He also bled out and the young boy’s body was found upstream two days later.

The final attack, on Joseph Dunn (14), also occurred on the 12th. He was bitten about a half-mile from the Wycoff Dock, but was saved by his brother and a friend. Though hospitalized for over two months, he survived. Two days later, local fisherman killed a shark in the Raritan Bay. Flesh and bones were found in the shark’s belly and scientists identified it as the creature responsible for the recent deaths. No further attacks occurred.

While the attacks had come to an end, these tragic incidents forever changed our perception of sharks. They were previously seen as harmless animals who would not attack unless provoked. While this is generally the case (shark attacks are not common), society began to see sharks as vicious creatures. The media capitalized on the public’s panic, portraying sharks in cartoons and movies as sinister characters. These attacks are believed to have been the inspiration for JAWS and were the subject of numerous documentaries.

Another New Jersey tragedy that won’t be forgotten? The 1962 Ash Wednesday Nor’easter. Forty people were killed, over 1,000 injured and over 45,000 homes in the Garden State were destroyed. To learn more about this natural disaster, click here.

Kristen Koennemann
Kristen is a freelance writer, editor and social-media manager who really loves her state. She's here to share all that New Jersey has to offer with residents and the rest of the world.