Mattapoisett man, 89, recalls last fatal shark attack in Massachusetts
It’s been 76 years since the last fatal shark attack in Massachusetts, but it was a day that stuck in Martin Smith’s memory for decades.
It was July 25, 1936. Smith, a New Jersey native, was only 13 years old and enjoying lunch with a friend when they heard a commotion down at the Hollywood Beach pier — only a block away from the Mattapoisett cottage he was staying at for the summer. Smith and his friend rushed down to investigate.
There, they saw a boat pulling a dinghy that was carrying a Dorchester teenager who was bleeding excessively. “He had a large chunk of his upper thigh bitten off,” Smith recalled.
The teen was identified as Joseph Troy Jr., 16, who had been staying in Mattapoisett with his uncle, just across the street from Smith’s cottage.
According to a Globe article in 1936, Troy had swam about 50 feet from shore with his uncle’s friend, Walter Styles of Middleton. They were going to meet the Black Cat, an incoming sailboat “when the black fin of the fish cut the water about 15 yards away. Circling the pair once, the fish suddenly made for the boy and drew him under the surface.”
Styles attempted to swim with the stricken boy to shore, crying for help as he went, and got the attention of the owner of the Black Cat, who pulled the boy aboard the dinghy.
“He was in pretty bad shape, he looked unconscious, but twitched or moaned every once in a while,” Smith said of Troy, after he arrived on shore.
Bystanders used an old door as a makeshift stretcher before putting him in a car and transporting him to Saint Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford. Doctors had decided to amputate Troy’s leg, but he died before the operation could be performed.
The shark was said to be 6 feet long, but no one saw it again, said Smith. Troy’s attack sparked a governmental shark hunt in the days after Troy’s death. Only three days later, the Globe reported two sharks off Sakonett Point off Fall River and one off Cape Cod were captured by the US Coast Guard.
“After they took Troy away, they asked us to clean the blood out of the dinghy,” said Smith, who went on to serve in World War II, but is still disgusted with the memory.
Smith returned to Mattapoisett in 1989 with his wife. He is now 89.
“I don’t swim in deep water, well, maybe once or twice during the war … but I don’t care to mess with anything that’s higher on the food chain than I am,” he said.Sarah N. Mattero can be reached at email@example.com.
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