Jaws, DC: Sharks Once Roamed the Potomac

Jaws, DC: Sharks Once Roamed the Potomac


We here at DCist love our local history. That’s why we’ve been fascinated by Ghosts of D.C., a great history blog that continually uncovers new and interesting relics from our past. We’re occasionally going to share some content with Ghosts of D.C.; you can read the original here.

This is not a joke. A long time ago, there was a perceived oncoming
epidemic of invading sharks, hell-bent on destroying humans and their
boats. I found this article in the Washington Post from July 26, 1911
- by the way, two days earlier, Hiram Bingham had announced the
discovery of Machu Pichu. This shark story is fantastic.


Alexandria, Va.,
July 22.–Savage sharks, which have attempted to climb on board
small boats and drag occupants into the water, have created widespread
excitement among the rivermen of this city, and are responsible for
the organization of the “society for the suppression of
man-eating fish,” of which Capt. Henry Simmons is president.

According to Capt. Simmons, who had an encounter with one of the
fish, the sharks are desperate, hardened, and totally without fear of
human beings. They are not even scared of motorboats, he declares.

“Something must be done,” said Capt. Simmons last
night, “before it is too late. Positive measures must be
resorted to if these sharks are to be shown where they get off. We
cannot afford to have our leading citizens attacked. As soon as I
learn the best way of killing a shark, I shall lead a party that will
exterminate them; yes, suh, exterminate them.”

Capt. Simmons’ adventure occurred about 30 miles below here,
last Wednesday. He was moving along in his gasoline boat, when, in the
distance beheld a man in a batteau [sic], who seemed to be earnestly
punching something. As Capt. Simmons drew nearer, his horrified eyes
discerned a giant shark–a creature between 15 and 20 feet
long–which was determinedly trying to climb into the small

While he hurried to the batteau man’s assistance, the fish
made a vicious leap, and almost got over the gunwale. The man punched
the shark on the nose, and it fell into the water.

This is the way Capt. Simmons tells the rest of it:

“I was astonished. Throwing on the high speed clutch of my
boat, I hurried toward the man who stood panting as he nursed the
bruised place where his hand had come in contact with the
shark’s face.

“Hurry,” he yelled, or you may be too late. This shark
is trying to find something. I don’t know what it is, but I
won’t give it to him.

“I picked up a chunk of iron and cautiously went alongside.
As I did, the enraged shark came to the surface, and, with gleaming
eyes, again rushed toward the batteau. His mouth was open, and I could
see his interior works as he lashed himself against the side of the
batteau. Just as he poised himself for a spring, I struck. I hit him
fairly behind the ears, and, with a roar, he disappeared under the
water and made away, leaving a trail of foam behind him.”

Returning to Alexandria, the captain spread the news, and, within a
short time, plans were arranged for a shark hunt. Several other
residents claim to have seen these creatures in the river. The
“society for the suppression of man-eating fish” was
formed late yesterday afternoon, and comprises the leading fishermen
of this community.

How crazy is this? Hyperbole or not, this is an amazing story. I
want a t-shirt that says “Society
for the Suppression of Man-Eating Fish
” and I’ll make
sure to wear it during Shark Week.

It’s a good thing that this didn’t terrorize away the
Potomac beach babes
of the 1920s. That would be tragic.

Check out the original post over at DCist

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