“After seeing Jaws for the first time, I was scared to even get in the bath tub.”
That’s the story a family friend has told me over the years. He’s exaggerating, of course, but there is a grain of truth in what he says. When Steven Spielberg’s Jaws hit theaters in 1975, it freaked people out.
One of my summer highlights is watching Discovery Channel’s Shark Week (I’m counting down the days until it airs in August), which got me thinking about two stories that always have fascinated me and pulled at my heartstrings. Both have a connection to Jaws.
In 1916, four people were killed and one injured after being attacked by a shark along the New Jersey shore. There have been several books written about the events, including one called Twelve Days of Terror: A Definitive Investigation of the 1916 New Jersey Shark Attacks. It’s on my summer reading list.
Two victims were killed while swimming near popular resorts. Two more died in Matawan Creek – yes, a creek! Lester Stillwell, just 11 years old, was enjoying an afternoon of fishing when he was attacked. When 24 year-old tailor Stanley Fischer rushed to his aid after hearing cries for help, he heroically lost his life. Not long after and further upstream, teenager Joseph Dunn was bitten, but survived. These events are said to have inspired Jaws.
Another story hits close to home.
One of the most powerful scenes in Jaws is a monologue by Captain Quint about the USS Indianapolis, which sank on July 30, 1945 in shark-infested waters after it was hit by Japanese torpedoes. The crew was returning from a mission in the South Pacific where they delivered components of the Hiroshima bomb.
There were 1,196 men on board. Only 317 survived. Every time I read about this horrific event, I get goose bumps. The History Channel recounts the story.