The Matawan Man-Eater | The Inspiration for Jaws


The Jersey Shore
shark attacks of 1916 were so unexpected, so
sudden, and so violent that they stuck in the
public eye like a splinter and never really left. The Matawan Man-eater,
as the shark was called, claimed between three
and five human lives before the killings
finally stopped. And by that time,
the word shark had taken on a dark significance
among beachgoers. Today, we’re looking at the
shark story that inspired Jaws. But before we do, be
sure to chum our waters and subscribe to the
Weird History Channel and dangle some
comments into the fray. OK, let’s get started. Once upon a time, there
was a killer shark that terrorized the
shores of the Garden State for 12 horrible days. Chief Brody’s shark story,
while not as soul punishing as Quint’s, is no less true. It began with the death,
not of a skinny dipper, but a finance broker
named Charles Vansant. He was swimming in
the Atlantic one hot July day when a shark
took a bite out of his leg and fatally severed
his femoral artery. The creature was
bizarrely aggressive, following a stolen prize as
rescuers dragged it to shore. The whole thing was just so
darn weird, officials declared, that it could only have
been a freak accident. Five days later,
bellboy Charles Bruder would make victim
number two, leaving his friends with these chilling
final words, “A shark bit me. Bit my legs off.” The shark abandoned the
beach for the calmer waters of nearby Matawan, a charming
little burrough straight out of Huckleberry Finn Adventure. In the town’s
freshwater creek, he would find his next three
meals, all prepubescent boys with wooden hoops
and broom switches. 11-year-old Lester
Stillwell went first. He told his friends
to watch him float. Instead, they looked on in
horror when he bobbed up and down like a
jack-in-the-box as the shark, whom we’re beginning to
think may have been Pennywise the clown all along, went about
the messy business of eating him, and then making him float. 24-year-old Stanley Fisher
jumped in like Superman and tried to help the
distressed boy back to land. But no one told him there was a
300 pound shark swimming around in there too. He had to find that
one out for himself. Making for the ocean
again, the shark had one more for the
road, Joseph Dunn, age 12. This time, he satisfied himself
with only a drumstick though, and Joseph survived. Now the people of
Matawan knew there might be a shark in the
creek before this happened. A grizzled old sea captain
saw the shark swimming in from the ocean. But when he tried
to warn the town, they decided that
it was impossible. And they blamed his
visions on the heat. To be clear, great white
shark attacks in the US are not very common. You’re more likely to be
killed by bees than sharks. And most shark
attacks aren’t fatal. We know this is going
to come as a shock, but what happened in Jaws
is not at all typical of shark attacks. After five attacks in less than
two weeks, the hunt was on. The ocean soon teemed
with mobs or schools of fishermen armed
with dynamite and eager for vengeance and glory. Now, they had no idea
what kind of shark they were even looking
for, but they certainly weren’t going to let
such petty quibbles get in the way of their
almost holy mission. Folks were beginning
to think of sharks as actual avatars of evil. Enter lion tamer/taxidermist,
oh, yes, friends and neighbors, Michael Schliesser. While he was fishing
in Raritan Bay, an eight foot shark tried
like hell to sink his boat. He managed to keep it afloat,
finally stabbing the shark to death with a broken
oar like a boss. Dr. Frederick Lucas,
the Hooper of this tale, dissected it to study the
contents of its stomach. Sharks are like garbage
cans if garbage cans had armor plating, five to
15 rows of serrated teeth, and the ability to use
blood as a homing beacon. But sharks can and will
eat just about anything. His bite radius may
have been small, but that didn’t stop him from
eating an airplane, something beyond the capabilities of
the most ambitious of sharks. Hoagie! Hoagie! Records report the recovery
of 15 pounds of human remains from the belly of
the beast, including the shinbone of a young boy
and probably a human rib. Surely unbiased by the
area’s need for capital, authorities declared they were
satisfied that this was indeed the shark they were looking
for, and the hunt was ended. But the damage was done. Shockingly, sharks have
not always struck fear in the hearts of the masses. For a long time,
scientists believed that sharks not only would
not but most of the time could not kill human
beings, despite the fact that we’re all soft
fleshy meat sticks that can’t breathe water
without getting very, very dead. Word of the odd
occasional attack circulated, but these were
dismissed as tall tales. And some of the
ballsier customers even went so far
as to try to get sharks to attack in order
to make the point that they couldn’t attack. The sharks who,
believe it or not, don’t do super great
with human aggression would swim away, thus
reinforcing the idea that there was no such
thing as a man eating shark. Even when the New Jersey
attacks first began, scientists refused to
believe it was a shark. Perhaps it was an
orca, they suggested, or another big sea critter. They were more
than willing to pin the whole thing on, seriously,
a giant turtle than accept that sharks could eat people. It was not until
the body count began to climb with witnesses that
scientists began to realize they were chasing a shark. If all of this sounds a little
bit familiar, it should. The story was so violent, so
unexpected, and so important to the way we view
sharks that it helped writer Peter
Benchley bring his chilling story to life. Jaws was published in
1974 after Benchley saw a photo of a fisherman
posing with a porker in 1964. Like the movie, the novel
references the 1916 attacks. And although he
adamantly maintains they were not his
initial inspiration for writing the book, they had a
big hand in how it was written. Unlike the movie, the
behavior and types of attacks detailed
in the book closely mirror many things that happened
in real life way back in 1916. Without the Jersey shark attacks
of 1916, our fears of sharks would not have been so
grippingly visceral. And stories like
Jaws would not likely have been so terrorizing
or successful. So you know, silver lining. Oddly, Peter regrets
writing his famous book. While it brought him
fame and fortune, he didn’t really know much
about sharks at the time, relying on the events of 1916
to model proper shark behavior. But the 1916 attacks were
downright bizarre and atypical of shark behavior. And Jaws only served to fuel
the fires of shark genocide. Smile, you son of a– [GUNSHOT] [EXPLOSION] When the movie Jaws
came out, its impact may not have been as severe as
that of the New Jersey attacks. But there was still
a serious impact. The stigma against sharks
was revived in glowing color, especially against great whites. The movie portrayed
sharks as vengeful and as actively seeking out
human flesh to munch on. Seeing the movie, spectators
were inclined to believe it and began to see sharks as evil. More than that, they were less
likely to vacation near beaches the summer after Jaws
was released, which again had an impact on resort towns. The impact on sharks
was devastating as well. Fishing contests about who
could kill the biggest shark sprang up all along the coasts. Shark populations fell as
much as 50% in some locations and up to 90% in one case. As they had in 1916, sharks
were seen as perpetual villains, and the stigma lingers. This is where the story should
end, but a lot of questions have been raised over the
years about the shark that committed these acts. Great whites don’t go nosing
around for food in creeks. And it is very rare for a single
shark to kill so many people, especially in such a
short period of time. It’s been suggested that
the killings were not done by one shark, but by
a group or shiver, which would go a long way toward
explaining why they happened so rapidly in multiple locations. Maybe Schliesser’s
shark was the fall guy. The shark would also
have had the power to be in several places at once. There’s a horrifying thought. Witnesses reported seeing
sharks in multiple locations over very little time. That could have been
partially due to hysteria over the deaths. But after what
happened in 1916, it’s probably a bad idea to
write them off again. It’s also been suggested
that the shark was not a great white, but
a bull shark, which have been known to be more
aggressive towards people and are now well-known
for their attacks as well as being
capable of traveling through salt and fresh
water, the waters of a creek, for example. In the end, all the details
about this weird spree of shark attacks may never be known. What is known is the
impact these events had and how it still affects the
public’s perception of sharks to this day. With his tacky suit and
deliberate obtuseness, the mayor of Amity Island is
a character we love to hate. Tomorrow is the 4th of July, and
we will be open for business. But he had a valid point. Resort towns like Amity
and the Jersey Shore depend on tourists for survival. Whether Schliesser’s shark was
a serial killer or just got really, really peckish one
day, the vicious attacks changed the lives of not
only the four victims and their loved ones,
but everyone in business on the shore. Beaches closed bringing
the economy to a standstill as they waited for
the shark hunt to end. Now relegated to buffet
lines for sharks, these once lively
bergs lost their glamor and fell into decay. Resort owners estimated a
total loss of over $250,000. Boy, that doesn’t
sound like much. But it was in 1916, right? Even after the offending shark
was, in theory anyway, caught, people tended to avoid
the beaches not terribly eager to find out firsthand. Some enterprising businesses had
a go at embracing the legend, promoting art that showed
smiling sharks to promote a child friendly environment. But some resort
towns just shut down, unable to pull in
enough money to get by. It’s been over 100
years since then, and folks still know
Matawan as that town where five people got eaten. Some people have even argued
that the attacks and deaths tanked President Woodrow
Wilson’s campaign for re-election. As the beach front
communities rotted away, the voters there were
understandably less than stoked to vote for him again. As we said, sharks are
basically swimming trashcans. They are perfect
killing machines. But they aren’t malicious. Although, we could argue that
with their dead little eyes, it might be a bit less
creepy if they were. If you take anything
away from this, it ought to be that hanging
around and eating people is not your typical sharks MO. Sharks are far more likely
to stay away from humans, and they certainly do not
go out seeking human flesh. We’re pretty scary. And we don’t taste super great. Sharks are predators
of opportunity and prefer to grab what they can
get and haul ass out of there if things get too exciting. You’re more likely to get hurt
stepping in a hole on a, beach be killed by a bee, be kicked
or bored to death by a deer, or even savaged
by a cow than you are to end up a shark snack. It’s the sharks that
really ought to organize. Humans kill millions
of them every year, to say nothing of the garbage
we dump in their backyard. Even on the sea,
we’re apex predators. If a shark does
decide to come at you, you have a pretty good
shot at not getting eaten. The vast majority of shark
attacks end in minor injuries and, while pants
loadingly frightening, rarely leave more than a
mental and physical scarring. Seldom do more than one
or two shark attacks result in serious
injury or death. The fact that the
1916 killings are ones we’re still
talking about today just goes to show how few
of these shark attacks are man-eaters. So before you go the way
of the chief, rest assured, you’re more likely to
end up in a confrontation with the business
end of a jellyfish if you brave the ocean than
you are a killer shark. So will you be dipping your
toes in the ocean this year? Let us know your biggest fear. And while you’re at it, check
out some of these other videos from our weird history.

Comments 100

  • Do sharks make you think twice about going in the ocean?

  • Wait so the I survived book and Jaws were both based on the same thing. That was like my whole childhood.

  • Anyome else thinks he sounds like Richard dreyfuss?

  • Did you really need to say pubescent….

  • I read it was a Bull Shark 🦈. I purchased a short story book maybe six or seven stories in the book. But the short story I will never forget.
    Into my understanding a bull shark was caught in the Ohio River by Indiana. The Ohio River is freshwater not salt water.

  • Dipping my toes in the ocean, no thank you. I'm saying at pools where I know theres nothing in it. That will kill me.

  • Sharks are fucking terrifying

  • We could capture every baby shark and put them in sea world and see how they do mabey they can do some tricks 😂

  • Between 3 and 5 people? So 4

  • How many people can I get to tell me to go kill myself if I say "You're gonna need a bigger boat"?

  • I hate to be that guy but evidence suggests this must’ve been more than one shark of a bull shark because a great white is very very unlikely to go into freshwater, bull sharks are also man eaters and by far the most aggressive of all sharks

  • Sensational bullshit.

  • I'm still scared of sharks

  • If I out at the sea I would drown first

  • These kinds of videos just make me hate other humans even more and love sharks more lol
    Why do people think that humans are the most important and privileged beings on earth? A handful of people have been killed by sharks (we are in fact land dwelling creatures just so everyone knows), so what. In the grand scheme of things it's not really that much of a tragedy.

  • I feel like I just watched a documentary not a YouTube channel 😂
    Great video man I’ll drop you a sub!

  • Just saying if it was one single shark it would be a bill shark which can go into fresh water and salt water but it was probably more than one shark or that was one big hungry bull shark

  • Show me the way to go home……cause I'm tired and I wanna go to bed. I had a little drink about an hour ago and it's gone straight to my head.

  • As scared as I am of sharks, I still think they are awesome and it makes me sad to see them strung up after being hunted and killed

  • a few years ago one of the discovery programs determined the matawan attacks likely were a great white (I think it was bite radius?) and that a great white was in fact capable of swimming in fresh water during specific lunar cycles since it would have made the freshwater brackish enough for them as long as it wasn't long time spans. Sorry. Shark geek here.

  • 2:31 song???

  • Jeeezuzzz fake news.

  • Perhaps these man-eating sharks have some kind of mental disorder that causes them to enjoy the taste of human flesh

  • Bull sharks from what I knew were the only ones that swam in both rivers and oceans. They can be freshwater and saltwater, so from this video, I would not assume it is a Great White shark if it is swimming up a river.

  • Makes you wonder how many bull sharks are living in fresh water lakes and they won't tell anyone because , they don't won't to panic anybody , like as in have you ever seen a fin sticking up out of the water late in the evening an said ,, naw ,, no way that couldn't be a shark ?? Well maybe it was !

  • Your version isnt factual sir. First off, it HAD to be a Bull shark and the taxidermy planted the bones.

  • Pretty easy to not get eaten by a shark really, if you see one while diving calmly swim in the other direction and keep your eye on it. Also don't fuck with them during the fall because thats when they are hungry. Easy peasy lemon fuckin' squeezy ya know?

  • I don't know why people think sharks do not like human flesh. Really? How do they know? Taste testing? Did the shark hold up a sign from 1 to 10 on human flesh vs tuna? YOU just said they are trash cans right. They eat anything right, but they do not like the taste of human flesh? Respectfully the scientist only know so much about this topic yet seem so confident in this contradiction. SHARKS WILL EAT YOU AND YES IT'S getting unsafe to go out in Daytona and NS Beach. Screw that, I am not getting arms and legs bitten off so I can surf 3 foot waves. It's not worth it. I don't know what these so called experts can lie and make us feel safe in waters but I know are not and are very dangerous. It's by the grace of God I never got attacked if you think about it.

  • Tell the people killed by sharks that they are not very likely to get killed by one. Tell those who lost limbs to them that sharks are scared of us.

  • 2:18 it's ubbe lol

  • Poor kids never got to play with those sweet wooden hoops again. You joke that the shark was Pennywise. There’s a part in the novel It where a kid tells the adult Bill Denbrough one of his friends swears he saw Jaws swimming in the canal in Derry. The kid didn’t believe his buddy of course. But it was Pennywise, who changes into whatever its victims fears the most.

  • Protected species in Australian waters.

  • I swam in So. Cal. for over 30 years and never, ever saw a shark. They are marvelous and are only doing what they are programmed to. Thank you for posting this video.

  • This story was turned into another good movie: "Twelve Days Of Terror."

  • I believe, the shark attacks in New Jersey happened again. Kinda like Pennywise, I think it was 30 years later…and maybe even a 3rd installment with less death. I vaguely recall an earth quake or military bombing happening that may have coincided with attacks weeks before…..I think.
    Thanks, great video.

  • Humans : exist

    Sharks : I'm going to do something called a pro gamer move

  • You're less likely to be killed by sharks because you're less likely to be in the ocean. Most of humanity spends the majority of their time away from the ocean. Anyone who says sharks aren't something to fear should go swim with some great whites and bull sharks a few times first then I might listen.

  • Fun fact for all the beach goers out there sharks enjoy the the furf so if your on the beach your likely within 500 uards of a shark

  • I also heard it would be a bullshark

  • Over Labor Day weekend in 2001, a 10 year old boy was killed by a shark in Virginia Beach and a man was killed and his girlfriend critically wounded by a shark in Avon, NC, about 130 miles from VB. A bull shark was suspected in the VB attack. They never determined what kind of shark attacked the couple in Avon. I've always suspected that it was the same shark. It's just too much of a coincidence that people would be attacked 130 miles apart in a short span of time in places where people are rarely bitten, much less killed by sharks.

  • One time we were all ordered off the massive beach because the lifeguard spotted fins about a mile or 2 out to sea

    It was dolphins 🐬

  • I grew up in South Africa & we used to go on vacation to Durban on the east coast, which is famous for its great white sharks. I remember many times watching the coast guard go out in the early morning to check the shark nets that ran the length of the beaches for miles. This was in the decade after “Jaws” came out & the fear even affected this little kid. Great video. Thanks.

  • When I was 5 my teenage aunt let me watch Jaws with her and her friends. It completely traumatized me. I wouldn't go into the deep end of a pool by myself until I was at least 10 or 11. To be honest, I still have nightmares about them and I'm 44. The ironic thing is that I love to swim and I love the Ocean. However about 20 years ago I was living in SF and one summer day a guy I was dating and I went to Red Rocks beach, which is a couple miles from Stinson Beach. At one point ( after a few drinks) I went for a swim. It felt great and I didn't stop until I almost ran into a seal. My 1st thought was" Shark bait". I looked back and could barely see the beach. To say I hauled ass would be an understatement. I made it back just fine ( although it pissed off the guy I was with). Later we were driving home and listening to the radio. During the news brief it was said that at least one great white shark was spotted at Stinson that afternoon. I haven't been back in the Ocean since.😂

  • meanwhile in Australian summer theres a Shark death every week and we're all just like………………meh

  • Moby Dick specifically mentions sharks eating people in the 19th Century

  • It’s so so sad how sharks are STILL being portrayed as human hating revenge seeking killers, they are animals.

  • And now we have sharknado

  • I thought this said the inspiration behind Jews

  • Sounds like a bull shark.

  • I have a serious fear from the few seconds of Jaws I saw as a kid. Can't watch any or those movies. And not really interested in swimming at a beach or near the ocean.

  • I just want to say its their ocean..people should be more careful.

  • So- this is actually my home town. And truth be told it's the only good thing about it.

  • Great channel! Keep the videos coming, I'm hooked!

  • Sharks are not swimming trashcans as a whole! Only certain species like the tiger that is a trashcan. Most sharks have a diet and won't eat anything. That's wrong.

  • Amazes me how STUPID scientists were. Lol Makes you wonder what they get wrong even today. Only time can really show the truth.

  • Just as there's a bull shark, there's also bullshit…a lot of it. Dive in with a bull, great white, or tiger and if you survive, tell us they're not mindless, opportunistic predators.

  • Your voice reminds me of Harry Shearer..

  • I don't like the beach cause I get sea sickness so i don't go to the beach i swim in lakes and rivers you know any thing that is not the ocean

  • meh fish have no feelings.

  • Shark hunters:smile you son of a b-

    Manager:yea uh you can stop sharks are not dangerous

  • Ppl tried to get revenge, but…

    Jaws

    Jaws2

    Jaws3D

    Jaws The Revenge

    now jaws is gonna take revenge

  • Great vid, love Jaws, long live Quint…

    I wonder how much the Shark that bit the head off that poor abalone diver in Ft. Bragg, CA, posited over how much “energy” it took to digest that eat n run job…

  • Is that really Charles Bruder? I've never seen an actual photo of him. I've only seen the drawing of his body after he was attacked and killed.

  • So let me get this right. Sharks will eat anything even trash but no a human.. more likely to be killed by a bee.. could this be because bees or on dry land.. how about jumping in the ocean and just hang out a couple of days in known areas of a shark let's then see how fast your chances of being eaten by a shark goes up.. a shark is no different then a crocodile they survive by being the best at surviving .. they eat that's what they do.. and you stay afloat in the ocean a few days you see how fast your chances of not being eaten by a shark drops..

  • i loveeeeeee sharks so much

  • Lol I live in jersey and near point pleasant a great white was spotted, definitely looking how far I am offshore.

  • If I'm not mistaken, they dredged the part of the river where Lester Stillwell was killed about a decade and a half ago and they found bull shark teeth. Even with a high tide, a white shark would unlikely have survived that far into the river and back before succumbing to over hydration.

  • If we killed all the sharks, no more shark fin soup, no more chinamen BOOM

  • Anyone Remember the uss indianapolis sharks eat most of them.

  • When he said he satisfied himself with a drumstick had me dying 🤣

  • Fuck the oceans. If you get attacked by something because your dumbass wanted to go swimming in that salty hell hole, don't expect any sympathy.

  • I love the very subtle comedy you put into your videos! A lot of the time I can’t help but laugh when watching your videos.

  • Flippingly visceral oh hahahaha what a delicious pun. Quite funny

  • Die you son of a bit….

    What an iconic quote

    And ironic at the same time

  • Shark attacks and eats humans

    Scientists it’s just another giant human eating turtle

    Turtle die you son of bit**

  • I used to live in Matawan.. It was a bull shark ..Possibly two

  • The shark in Jersey was a bull shark, Great whites can’t swim in fresh water, only bulls can do that, and also the majority of the trash cans of the ocean stories come from tiger sharks they are known to eat damn near anything, GW sharks tend to be picky about what they eat, most attacks on humans by GWs are usually out of curiosity

  • (2:12) joseph dunn is the name of the drummer in twenty one pilots. the fat that he said 'drum stick' right after he said 'joseph dunn age 12'

  • No matter how many times ive seen this story…it eats me up inside. Everytime.

  • How many sharks have we killed?
    Too many.

  • So society back in the early 1900s said sharks can't eat people then people get eaten. Now society is saying sharks don't like us we taste bad. Don't worry. Do we learn anything from history?

  • Sharks don't like to eat people….which is why we've made a video about a bunch of sharks who ate people. 🙁

  • One time I was at a the boardwalk with friends at night and we saw a cat jump into the ocean and almost immediately get attacked by a shark.
    Shit was fucked.

  • if sharks don't like to eat human meat, then why did soldiers of the USS Indianapolis died from shark attacks… and nowhere to be found during the rescue operation? thanks for the video though

  • How the fuck do you make jokes about kids getting eaten by sharks? What a peice of shit

  • yes. also the name was inspired on an E3 game called "Man Eater"

  • Sure. Tell all that to the crew of the Indianapolis. Oh wait, most of them got eaten by sharks. That ain't fiction – it's history bub.

  • I live in Denmark around here the most common shark lives at the bottom of the sea and is one meter long (google says that's about 3 feet long), oh shoot!
    Look out great white shark from the Jaws movie! this less-than-3-foot Shark is coming for your wig! 😱

  • 300 snowflakes disliked this video.

  • I think they're beautiful because of that murderous label. Yes, of course, it's largely not true, they're essentially just overgrown cat fish, but they make for a good story, and what so happens to be people's favorite kind of stories? Scary stories of course! We like to be scared, we think of new and inventive ways of becoming scared, it's how clowns went from being beloved entertainers and comics to murderous psychopaths and pedophiles and how dolls that little girls loved went from being idols of joy and imagination into souless vessels waiting for posession. Sharks are beautiful, they can be provoked into attacking people despite their largely meek nature, but they're an easy target, how many people would feel comfortable if they replaced the whale in free willy with jaws? Just not the same picture. It would be very interesting to see something like this happen now in front of our eyes. We don't perceive squid or octopus as murderers despite their creepy look, so how would people react and look at them if one of them went on a killing spree?

  • Never knew there were sharks out there that would actually eat a person from what I head I thought they all hated the taste of people and wanted nothing to do with them.

  • I’ve gotten stung by a jellyfish, it was horrible 😫😫

  • I am thinking it was bull sharks they can live and breed in fresh water they found groups of them hundreds of miles up stream and one that gets hurt by a boat or something will go after easy meals scary I don't go in dark water why risk it I don't want to hear oh but the chances .

  • Do the story on 'maneater lions of tsavo'

  • poor sharks after jaws

  • Why does he say matawan like that

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