This Day in New Jersey History: the 1916 Shark Attacks
This is the time of year when there are frequent shark sightings off the Jersey Shore and we all know that incredibly few people are ever attacked, but, for one summer, in 1916, terror gripped the shore as four people were killed and one injured by shark attacks between July 1-12.
The first attack was in Beach Haven where a 23-year-old Philadelphia man, Charles Vansant was attacked while swimming. A lifeguard pulled him to the shore, but he bled to death from a wound in his thigh where the shark had bitten him; he died in the lobby of the Engleside Hotel.
Charles Bruder, a 27-year-old Swiss bell captain at the Essex & Sussex Hotel in Spring Lake, New Jersey, was swimming about 130 yards from shore on July 6, 1916 when he was bitten by a shark in the abdomen, severing his legs. Lifeguards Chris Anderson and George White rowed out to Bruder in a lifeboat and pulled him from the water. Charles Bruder bled to death from his wounds before they made shore.
The next two attacks took place in the Matawan Creek near Keyport six days later. Eleven-year-old Lester Stillwell was swimming in the creek with friends. Stillwell was attacked and pulled underwater by the shark. His friends ran to town to get help and one of the men responding, Stanley Fisher, jumped in the creek to try to save Stillwell, but it was too late. The boy was already dead. As Fisher carried the lifeless boy out of the water, the Asbury Park Press writes he was attacked by the same shark. Fisher bled to death at a Long Branch hospital.
The last shark attack of the summer happened about 30 minutes later in the same area; a 14 year old New York City boy was attacked, and bitten on his leg but was saved by his brother; he was taken to the hospital and, after a lengthy recovery, survived.
This led to a frenzy of shark killing up and down the East Coast as well as to a dramatic drop in tourism at the Jersey Shore.
There’s not much threat of that happening again, though; New Jersey’s last fatal shark attack took place in 1926.