During the summer months, sharks are in the news. Reports of shark sightings and shark encounters run rampant. However, most of these occur in the ocean, and very rarely do we hear of shark attacks that occur in creeks. But it happened in 1916 when a fearsome shark, reported as 7 feet long and weighing 230 pounds, managed to terrorize the inhabitants of a tiny inland town located in New Jersey.
The unwelcome monster was first noticed by a retired boating captain in the town of Mattawan located 11 miles inland from the open sea as this excerpt explains: "Thomas Cottrell, a retired captain, witnessed an enormous dark form moving with the tide toward the old Matawan docks. He knew that sharks don’t swim in brackish water like Matawan Creek, but he remembered recent accounts of shark attacks in nearby Spring Lake. No one had ever heard of a shark swimming eleven miles inland. Cottrell shouted warnings, but Lester Stillwell and his buddies didn’t hear him…"
Unfortunately, his warnings were ignored probably because nobody believed a shark would make its way this far inland.
11-year-old Lucas Stillwell who was enjoying an early day off from factory work by enjoying a swim with friends in Mattawan Creek would be the first victim of the shark attack on that fateful July 12th day. Per reports, two other men who leaped into the water to aid the rescue efforts, Arthur Smith and Stanley Fisher were also attacked. While the former survived, the latter succumbed to massive wounds suffered in the attack: "Stanley suffered a wide laceration on his right thigh that ran from his hip to his knee. At least ten pounds of flesh were removed, leaving the remainder of his leg a bloody mass. The physician on site feared Stanley wouldn’t survive the trip to the nearest hospital, twenty miles away. Hours later, he was put on the train, which sped nonstop to Long Branch, but he died in the operating room crying, “I did my duty.”
In a separate attack, two brothers Joseph and Micheal Dunn who were on a day trip from New York found themselves under attack by the man-eating predator. Fortunately, they were rescued just in time by Thomas Cottrell and his boat. Reports state that Joseph Dunn spent 59 days recuperating in the hospital from injuries suffered in the attack.
The town residents came out en masse to hunt down the shark that had wreaked havoc in their tiny town. From dynamiting the creek to using various other weapons, hundreds of sharks were killed. There are conflicting opinions among experts as to whether the Matawan Man-Eater was a bull shark or a Great White as this excerpt elaborates: "Some scientists also question the species of the Matawan Man-Eater. Although identified as a great white shark, the monster’s behavior sounds akin to that of a bull shark, a species known for aggressive attacks and affinity for brackish and freshwater. Some scientists also hypothesize that more than one shark may have been involved in the attacks."