These days, even the mention of sharks can strike fear into the hearts of many—but that wasn’t always the case. Decades before Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) convinced beachgoers not to get in the water, there was a horrific summer when a series of shark attacks sparked widespread panic and Giant fish gained a bad reputation for good.
It was the summer of 1916 when swimming in the ocean was still a relatively new way to pass the time and a heat wave drew more people to the beach than usual. People knew there were sharks in the ocean but they were pretty unconcerned—all those sharp teeth were for catching prey, and humans were too big to hunt. That all changed over 12 days, however, when a series of shark attacks along the New Jersey coast killed four people and seriously injured one.
The first victim was 25-year-old Charles Vincent, who was out for an evening swim in Beach Haven, New Jersey. Something grabbed his leg and tore off a large chunk of flesh. He eventually recovered from the injury. At the time, there was uncertainty as to whether the man-eating creature was a shark. Some even suggested that it could be a sea turtle, an animal thought to tease people. As far as most people knew, sharks in these waters were generally harmless.
Just five days after the first attack, 45 miles north of Beach Haven in Spring Lake, a shark (possibly the same one) claimed another victim. At this point, panic started spreading. Newspapers began to carry headlines about shark attacks, and beachgoers became more reluctant to enter the water. Unfortunately, two more people lost their lives. Surprisingly, the next attacks occurred in an inland creek more than a mile from the nearest bay.
An 11-year-old boy was mauled by a shark, and then a man in his rescue party was also fatally attacked. Later that day, a young man was injured when a shark attacked his leg. He will be the only survivor. It wasn’t until two days later that two men fishing near Mutwan Creek killed a shark (almost certainly the culprit) in self-defense that the reign of terror ended.