The music is iconic. Within a few notes, the score to “Jaws” is instantly recognizable. What may be less well-known are the true events that inspired the hit film.
Author Michael Capuzzo’s New York Times bestselling novel “Close to Shore” details a series of shark attacks that happened during the summer of 1916, and on May 8, the bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize nominee will share his experiences researching and writing the book as part of the New Jersey History Speaks lecture series. Capuzzo’s speech marks the final installment of the 2018-2019 New Jersey History Speaks Lecture Series, which is a cooperative effort between the Historical Society of Moorestown and the Moorestown Library.
Mickey DiCamillo, president of the Historical Society of Moorestown, said the society is in its fourth season of the lecture series. He said oftentimes people know about Philadelphia’s or New York’s history but less about New Jersey’s past. The series started as an idea to bring New Jersey’s history to the forefront.
They began by hosting speakers at Moorestown’s Smith-Cadbury Mansion. Over the years, the series grew in popularity, and they ran out of space at the mansion. So, the Historical Society formed a partnership with the Moorestown Library.
“It’s really become something that a lot of people in Moorestown have come to enjoy,” DiCamillo said.
As they were discussing their list of upcoming speakers, one of the historical society’s trustees had just read “Close to Shore” and suggested Capuzzo. They tracked Capuzzo down, and he agreed to come speak about the terrifying time in Jersey history.
Capuzzo was working as a reporter for the Miami Herald when he stumbled upon the story of a series of shark attacks that happened off the New Jersey coast in the early 20th century. He said the attacks were some of the biggest news of the time period and would later serve as the prototype for “Jaws.” Capuzzo later moved to South Jersey and wrote for The Philadelphia Inquirer where he received four Pulitzer Prize nominations for his feature writing.
The story is an “iconic piece of New Jersey history,” according to Capuzzo. He said the attacks changed society’s view of the ocean, and when “Jaws” came out in the 1970s, it sparked a conversation about ocean conservation and saving the sharks. As a result, the apex predator has seen a marked return with shark population seeing a steady rise in the years since the movie’s debut.
Capuzzo published his book in 2001 and was thrilled that it was well-received by readers and reviewers, who said “Close to Shore” was scarier than “Jaws.” Since its publication, “Close to Shore” has continued to garner interest. The book went on to become a bestseller, and it was recently optioned by Sony Pictures Television for a television series.
His interest in sharks hasn’t waned either. Capuzzo recently spent 10 days travelling between Montauk and Cape Cod with a biologist friend as the pair did a bit of research on the latest science on shark attacks.
Capuzzo said he plans to delve into how safe it is to swim on the East Coast and the latest science on shark attacks during his presentation.
“I think it’s an important story, a fascinating story, and it’s become increasingly important,” Capuzzo said.
DiCamillo said the attacks irrevocably changed the way people think about swimming in the ocean, and with Memorial Day just around the corner, what better time than now to discuss how?
Capuzzo’s presentation will take place at 7 p.m. at the Moorestown Library on May 8. Copies of “Close to Shore” will be available for purchase. Registration is required to attend. Visit www.moorestownlibrary.org to register.