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 Born to Write
 A Blog by Author Amy Hill Hearth

Remember the Heroes

While my historical novel, Silent Came the Monster, is the story of the infamous 1916 Jersey Shore shark attacks, the focus is on the people whose lives were impacted by the shark in some way, with an emphasis on resilience, love, grief - and tremendous courage.

Imagine this real-life scene as described by multiple witnesses in Beach Haven, the site of the first attack: Lifeguards and bystanders raced into the surf to pull a swimmer from the jaws of a terrifying "sea monster." Since it was widely believed, even by scientists, that "man-eating" sharks didn't swim in the waters off New Jersey or New York at all, witnesses were not only terrified, they were bewildered. Not knowing what the creature was, I'm sure, made it that much scarier.

The lifeguards were young, just as they often are today. And yet, they didn't hesitate for a second. Neither did the wealthy gentlemen from Philadelphia, many of them dressed in formal dinner clothes, who realized something terrible was happening. The lifeguards, hanging onto the victim by his arms, were joined by the gentlemen, and together they created a human chain as they tried with all their might to keep the victim from being pulled beneath the waves.

It was man – or men – against beast.

When I read the accounts of this tragic event and the others that followed as the shark moved up the coast, I was moved to tears by these extraordinary demonstrations of selflessness and bravery. This is why I dedicated the book to "the rescuers, lifeguards, and heroes who rush toward danger at their own peril. You represent the best of humankind."

I want them to be remembered.

When terrible things happen, there are always those brave souls who risk it all. I'm reminded of the police and firefighters who rushed into the World Trade Center towers on 9-11, or the stories my dad told me about his buddies in World War II when they were in the Army overseas.

Sometimes it seems as if the world is filled with evil people who care nothing about the well-being of others. And yet, the good folks are all around us, like angels.



'Sea Monster' Attacks of 1916 Sparked Confusion, Disbelief

When a rogue shark began attacking swimmers at the Jersey Shore in 1916, there was utter confusion about what, in fact, it was.


Many people simply called it, "the sea monster." Among the general public - and even among scientists - it was widely believed that dangerous, "man-eating" sharks didn't swim in the waters off New Jersey or New York at all.


Some people thought it might be a huge mackerel. Others insisted that it was a giant sea turtle. A few even speculated that it was not a living creature at all, but a German U-boat spying off the East Coast of the U.S.


A Coast Guard superintendent told the press that it couldn't be a shark because "sharks are timid as rabbits." The New York Times, in what must be one of the vaguest (or perhaps cautious) headlines ever written, called it a "fish." Even those who witnessed the shark attacks didn't understand what they saw.


As a boater and longtime resident of the Jersey Shore, I've been aware of the story of the 1916 shark for a long time. The sudden appearance of the shark, which killed four people and severely injured a fifth, all in less than two weeks, upended life here. People still talk about it, and I suppose they always will.


The 1916 shark attacks became a huge, national news story because they were unprecedented in U.S. history, and people were caught off-guard. Another reason, however, was the location of the attacks. The Jersey Shore was the favorite summer vacation spot of many wealthy and powerful Americans. This included President Woodrow Wilson, following a tradition begun many years earlier by Ulysses S. Grant, who owned a home in Elberon, a part of Long Branch, NJ.


Scholarly articles and nonfiction books have been written about the 1916 shark, and arguments remain. Was it really a great white? Was it sick or injured? But the real story, to me, is how people reacted to the sudden arrival of the sea monster in their midst.  


I wanted to tell the story as historical fiction from the perspective of those experiencing the events as they unfolded, and without any of the knowledge we now have of ocean creatures. Disbelief, confusion, terror, denial, defiance, and even conspiracy theories are explored in my forthcoming book, Silent Came the Monster.


In 1916, many people accepted the idea that mankind is superior to all other creatures, an assumption that a growing number of us now realize is both arrogant and ignorant. The fact is, we are not at the top of the heap, although we may think we are, and indeed we have used our power mostly to make a total mess of things for most other creatures, among them, sharks.


In this way, one could say that the Jersey Shore shark which shocked and confused the nation continues to be a reminder that what we know, both then and now, is not only limited but biased. The shark should humble us, not make us angry. Regardless of what humans do, the fact is that Nature plays by its own rules.