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New Jersey’s Possible Connection To The ‘JAWS’ Franchise

(Photo by Michael Tullberg/Getty Images) What is the New Jersey Connection to 'JAWS'? It's been 49 years since moviegoers took the trip to Amity Island for the first time. 49 rotations around the sun since Bruce (The Shark) became the star of the first-ever Summer Blockbuster! Under the direction of Steven Speilberg, 'JAWS' was the first movie to ever hit $100 Million at the box office. Following the success of 'JAWS', Universal immediately looked for a way to capitalize, and looked to make a sequel, 'JAWS 2'. This time, the work was not inspired by Peter Benchley's novel like its predecessor, making it, in some way, Hollywood's first true sequel. Simply make it bigger, badder, and add a "2" to it. Depending on who you ask, the movies that came after, 3-D, and The Revenge, could be (respectfully) forgotten about. The Rumored New Jersey Connection To JAWS Throughout the franchise, those who lived on the East Coast could not help but make connections to their own home, which they would be right to. Although Amity Island is a fictional Island off New York, it was filmed in Martha's Vinyard. New Jersey, however, is rumored to have a much more sinister connection to the attacks on Amity Island -- a connection going back over 100 years. Jersey Shore Shark Attacks of 1916 Between July 1 and July 12, 1916, five people were attacked by a shark off the coast of New Jersey, with only one of the victims surviving their encounter. The Attack Victims Charles Epting Vansant The first of the reported attacks, Vansant was a 25-year-old Philidelphia resident on Vacation in The Garden State. It was reported he went out for a quick swim before dinner. Shortly after entering the water, Vansant began shouting. Those in the area thought he was shouting for his dog, but in actuality, he was being bitten on his leg. A lifeguard and bystander rescued Vansant and claimed the shark followed him to shore as he was bleeding. His leg was stripped of skin and he bled to death Charles Bruder The 27-year-old Swiss Bell captain met a similar fate to Vansant. 45 Miles to the north at Spring Lake. He was bitten on the abdomen and legs. He bled to death before he could be brought back to shore. Lester Stillwell The first (and saddest) of the three attacks that happened at Matawan Creek. Lester, 11, and two other boys were playing in the creek. According to reports at the time, the boys were swimming near Wycoff Dock, when they saw an "old, black weather-beaten board or a weathered log." A dorsal fin appeared, and before Stillwell could leave the water with the other boys, he was pulled under. Watson Stanley Fisher After the boys ran to town for help, Fisher, 24, was one of the residents who followed them to the scene to investigate what happened. In an attempt to recover Lester Stillwell, he was attacked in front of the townspeople who stayed on land. He was taken out and rushed to the Monmouth Memorial Hospital where he would bleed to death. Joseph Dunn 14-year-old Dunn was the final victim and the only survivor. He was attacked about a half-mile from Wycoff Dock, about 30 minutes from the previous two attacks. After a tug-of-war with the shark, his brother was able to pull him to shore, his leg severely damaged. Dunn told reporters that he felt his leg in the throat of the shark, and believed it would have swallowed him. Matawan Man-Eater Mural at Angelica Court Too Many Connections Similar to the novel and movie, reaction to the news of these attacks led to waves of panic, and shark hunts aimed at killing a population of "man-eaters" erupted in New Jersey seaside communities. Resort towns had temporarily closed their beaches to protect swimmers. Similarly to the character Matt Hooper, ichthyologists were also called in for their expert opinion. These attacks caused them to reassess what was known about sharks at the time. The Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper, 1916, Public Domain, Another tragic, but ironic connection is that of Thomas Cottrell. A Matawan resident and Sea Captain, he claimed he saw an 8-foot shark in the creek, before the attacks. Like that of Police Chief, Martin Brody, his claims were dismissed and not taken seriously right away. Perhaps a little caution could have saved Lester Stillwell and Stanley Fisher. Just like in the movie, the kind of shark responsible for the attacks was not known right away, while it is still not confirmed 100%, it is suggested that the less famous, but territorial and aggressive Bull Shark. Fans of the movie will also point out that it directly references the 1916 attacks when Chief Brody and Matt Hooper are urging the Amity Island Mayor to close the beaches down for the 4th of July. Is The New Jersey Connection To 'JAWS' Real? One can argue that the New Jersey Connection to JAWS is all too coincidental, and it would make a lot of sense. Unfortunately, the 1916 attacks DID NOT serve as the original inspiration for the novel. Other than the name drop of the attacks in 1916, the New Jersey Connection to 'JAWS' ends there. Peter Benchley himself said in a book that his idea of the movie came from shark attacks in Massachusetts and New York. While it would be amazing to have a direct connection to one of the greatest summer hits of all time, this is possibly just a case of art imitating life.