Close To Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks Of 1916 Summary

Michael Capuzzo

Close To Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks Of 1916

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Close To Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks Of 1916 Summary

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Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916 is a nonfiction book by American author Michael Capuzzo and was first published in 2001. It centers on the events along the New Jersey shore in the summer of 1916, when a solitary great white shark left its usual habitat and began attacking beachgoers in the vacation towns of Beach Haven and Spring Lake, even moving inland for an attack, at one point. As the attacks persisted and people died, a frenzied hunt began, resulting in anti-shark paranoia that continues to this day. Exploring themes of man versus nature, public hysteria, and media portrayal of dangerous animals, Close to Shore was a bestseller and highly acclaimed for its in-depth portrayal of the first shark attack on United States soil.

Close to Shore serves as an in-depth chronicle of the summer of 1916, when a great white shark famously held the entire area in a state of terror. The attacks began in July, with the first victim being Charles Vansant, the son of a prominent Philadelphia doctor. Charles was swimming with his dog off the coast of Beach Haven when a large animal pulled him underneath the water. He fought against the creature, but the shark wounded him severely before a team of lifeguards were able to rescue him and bring him ashore. Charles, who was engaged to be married, had one of his legs nearly torn off and was bleeding profusely. His doctor father and two local physicians worked to stabilize him, but they were unable to repair the massive injuries before Charles died from blood loss only a short time after being brought ashore. Charles Vansant was the first death in the United States to be recorded as the result of a shark attack, but it would not be the last in the summer of 1916.

Not long later, the shark resurfaced up the shore from Beach Haven in Spring Lake, with fatal consequences. Sussex Hotel bellman Charles Bruder decided to go for a swim while taking a break from his job duties. He was quickly attacked by what was assumed to be the same shark. Both his legs were bitten off by the shark, and when he was pulled to shore he quickly bled out before anyone could stabilize him. That was when the shark’s rampage took a bizarre turn. It traveled north and mistook the coastline for the beach, swimming into the mouth of the freshwater Matawan Creek. Although sharks are unable to survive for long periods in freshwater, the creek had been infused with saltwater due to high tides brought on by recent lunar activity. The shark began attacking people while swimming in the creek, miles inland from the beach. Most famously, the shark killed a young teenager named Lester Stilwell. When the town’s tailor, Stanley Fisher, attempted to retrieve Lester’s body, the shark attacked and killed him as well, bringing the number of casualties to four.

Although there was no proof one shark was responsible for all four killings during July 1916, most people believed it was and a hunt was commissioned. A great white shark was eventually caught and killed by a big game hunter and taxidermist, and when he was preparing the shark to be mounted, human bones were found inside its stomach. There were no more fatalities or near-misses in the immediate aftermath, so the threat was believed to be contained. At the time, most marine animal experts and expert fishermen were skeptical that the deaths were caused by a shark, instead pointing the finger at other animal suspects including an orca, a large sea turtle, a swordfish, or even an unusually large tuna. The shark at this point was believed to be a timid animal incapable of attacking humans. It was only when the rogue shark was caught with the remains of its victims inside it that people became believers that a shark could be a killer. In the aftermath of the attacks of 1916 off the New Jersey coast, the Great White Shark immediately became the ocean’s most feared animal, and has remained so to this day. Most people believe that the surge of shark-related horror movies can be traced directly back to the shark attacks of 1916.

Michael Capuzzo is an American journalist and author best known for his best-selling nonfiction books. His most famous works are Close to Shore and The Murder Room, which centered on a private club of famous detectives who solved cold-case murders. The Murder Room was nominated for The Golden Dagger Award for Non-Fiction, was profiled on the ABC newsmagazine 20/20, and is currently under development as a television series for CBS. He appears nationwide as a keynote speaker, and taught a class about his work at Rutgers University. In total, he has published six major works.