While today, the mere mention of a shark sighting sends shivers down our spines, such was not the case about a century ago. In those days most people believed that sharks were tame creatures that could be easily scared and had jaws so weak, that even if one were brave enough to come close, it would pose no threat. This belief was reinforced by experts who maintained that sharks would never attack humans, especially in the temperate waters of the United States, unless they were provoked.
In 1891, American businessman and multimillionaire Hermann Oelrichs, offered a princely sum of $500 USD to anybody who could provide evidence of a shark attack along the East Coast of the United States, north of North Carolina. The fact that nobody claimed the prize for decades, made people even more complacent about these large fish.
Therefore, you can only imagine the surprise and disbelief when one appeared along the shores of New Jersey on July 1st, 1916, and over a period of twelve days, fatally wounded four people and injured one. What was even more shocking is that two, including eleven-year old Lester Stilwell, were not even in the open ocean. They were mauled whilst swimming in the Matawan Creek, that lies 16 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean.
I Survived: The Shark Attacks Of 1916, by historical fiction writer Lauren Tarshis brings to life this gruesome, but fascinating incident that changed people's perception of sharks forever. As usual, she masterfully weaves the historic facts into a heart-stopping fiction tale, perfect for young students that want to learn about the event.
Chet, the book's ten-year-old hero is having a great summer. After years of leading a nomadic life with his parents he is finally spending an entire year in Elm Hills, New Jersey with his Uncle Jerry. This meant a chance to make friends, which in this case happen to be three boys from school - Dewey, Sid and Monty.
It was the trio that rushed in on the morning of July 3rd, 1916, just as Chet was finishing up his shift at his Uncle's diner, to report the big news. According to the local paper, on July 1st, a shark had attacked and fatally wounded a lone swimmer off the coast of Beach Haven, New Jersey, just seventy miles south of Elm Hills. Like most people, Uncle Jerry laughed it off as a funny hoax.
Of course, the idea of a hoax resonated quite well with Chet's three friends who loved to prank people. The following week, they invited the unsuspecting youngster to swim with them in the local swimming hole, the Matawan Creek. Poor Chet watched in horror as a 'gray' fin approached his swimming friends and one by one, they all disappeared. Fortunately, just before the panic-stricken boy took off to warn the town, the jokesters emerged from the water with the shark's 'fin' - a chipped gray tile.
Upset at being made fun of, Chet pulled a similar stunt on the three boys except, thanks to a bottle of ketchup it was a little more gory and life-like. Not surprisingly, it did not go down too well with the three friends who were accustomed to pranking people rather than being pranked.
Therefore, it was not surprising that just a few days later, on that fateful hot summer afternoon, when Chet really had an encounter with the deadly shark, nobody in town believed him. They thought he was just pulling another prank except this time, he was trying to fool the entire town. Not deterred, the determined young boy ran back to Matawan Creek to try convince the swimmers who happened to be none other than his three friends - Dewey, Sid and Monty, to get out.
Will he be able to convince his friends or has he cried 'wolf' once too often? Will they emerge before the shark gets them? What became of the man-eating shark? To find out, read I Survived: The Shark Attacks of 1916.
Resources: I Survived The Shark Attacks of 1916