Rumor has actually it a young George Lawson was attacked by a shark while swim at a Chicago beach in 1955. Is it true, or simply a bunch that bull shark? (Logan Jaffe/

Rumor has actually it a young George Lawson was struck by a shark while swimming at a Chicago coast in 1955. Is that true, or just a bunch that bull shark? (Logan Jaffe/
acquiring to the Bottom that Lake Michigan’s legendary ‘Shark Attack’

It’s the kind of “fact” that provides you blink and wonder if you review it correctly. The global Shark assault File, a listing the every documented shark attack in current history, compiled through the non-profit Shark study Institute, list a shark assault in Lake Michigan in 1955. The details space thin. The name of the victim: George Lawson. The species: bull shark. Lawson was bitten ~ above the right leg. The bite to be unprovoked and non-fatal.

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It sound impossible, right? Sharks live in the oceans, and while you sometimes hear of castle in brackish rivers, Lake Michigan is practically 2,000 navigational miles from the nearest ocean. The story persists in assorted mythbusting columns, and also while most professionals think the story is most likely an city legend, Chicagoans store bringing it up. Curious City acquired two very similar questions, one from Adam Kovac that Chicago, and also another indigenous Hilary Winiarz the Hawthorn Woods. Winarz’s wording summons the disappointed of numerous Chicagoans about the ongoing absence of a to solve answer.

Can us please gain a last ruling on whether or not one young George Lawson was actually struck by a shark, in Lake Michigan in 1955?

We’d love to help Hillary, Adam, and the unsatisfied masses. The difficulty is, there’s very tiny evidence one of two people way. And also it deserve to be very daunting to prove the something did not happen. Nevertheless, us took a three-pronged technique to answering this question.

Approach 1: uncover a evil or participant in the occasion itself.

Approach 2: locate the original source of the story, and also evaluate its reliability.

Approach 3: study the clinical plausibility the a tires bull shark beginning Lake Michigan, enduring long sufficient to assault a person in 1955.

Following this trajectory, we found a couple of clues around the beginnings of the story, and also learned the a shark in Lake Michigan may not be as implausible as you would think.

Approach 1: have the right to I gain a witness?

The Shark research study Institute sent out us the name of the 2 people associated in the Lake Michigan shark attack; the victim, a boy called George Lawson, and the rescuer, john Adler. We searched public documents for those names (including assignment variations) in the Chicago area, and found 2 George Lawsons and two man Adlers who might have been the right period in 1955; the Lawsons would have actually been under 16 and also the Adlers end 18. We called the detailed phone numbers. One call line to be disconnected, and we left messages on the other three. We heard from one respondent the he was no the john Adler us were feather for. Nobody else reverted our calls. It seems clear the if a staying John Adler or George Lawson were associated in a shark attack, castle were not interested in mentioning it through Curious City. No one does it show up that any type of George Lawson or man Adler has ever before given an interview about the shark attack.

Approach 2: whereby did this bull shark story come indigenous anyway?

The global Shark attack database in reality does perform a resource as “F. Dennis p 52”. After ~ a tiny sleuthing, we found a picture book published in 1975 called Man-Eating Sharks: a Terrifying Compilation of Shark-Attacks, Shark-facts and Shark-Legend! “F. Dennis” refers to Felix Dennis, who, as it turns out, is a famous and eccentric book and magazine publisher in the UK. He is known for founding several effective magazines consisting of Maxim, Blender, pc World, and also several others.

Unfortunately, he passed away of cancer in 2014, but his legacy kindly put Curious City in touch with one of the writer of Man-Eating Sharks, Christopher Rowley, now based in upstate new York. Rowley remembers the book quite clearly: “Felix want to carve out a chunk that the massive money flowing because of the Jaws phenomenon in 1975.”, that says.

Of course, he way Steven Spielberg’s mega-hit film, which sparked remarkable fascination and fear of sharks. In the middle of the Jaws craze, Dennis rental Rowley and two other writers to discover out every little thing they could about sharks. “When Felix want something choose that, it was favor crash diving,” he says. “Klaxons are roaring, go out and also buy everything you can. It was all about being nimble and also quick in those days.”

Rowley spent 5 weeks in ~ the library, reading around sharks, translate in information, and also writing i of the book. He doesn’t remember wherein the story the the Lake Michigan shark strike comes from, yet definitely recalls reading about bull sharks. The admits they may have comprised some the the details — quick and loosened fact-finding didn’t start with the internet period — however doesn’t think they made up that particular story. “There’s too much little detail there,” he says. “On the other hand, i can’t remember exactly how much invention entered it, and also how lot we uncovered in the libraries.”

So if you think Rowley, it suggests there might be another mysterious source of the Lake Michigan shark attack, maybe in another newspaper or magazine somewhere. If so, nobody associated with Man-Eating Sharks remembers what it was. Or, it’s possible Rowley or one of his partners just made up the story the end of totality cloth, perhaps after reading of the bull shark’s infamous habit of swimming up freshwater rivers. I beg your pardon brings us to our next strategy …

Approach 3: so you’re speak there’s a chance?


Scientists gain a good hypothetical situation, and also several us spoke through indulged us by entertain the opportunity of a shark entering and also surviving in Lake Michigan. Phil Willink, the senior Research Scientist in ~ the Shedd Aquarium, claims the bull shark — the type of shark named in the global Shark Attack file — is well known for entering freshwater: “It is maybe to control the salt and also other link in that blood, to preserve a balance through the water that’s around it, and is able come move earlier and forth between freshwater and also saltwater. So, yes, bull sharks have the right to swim into freshwater and we think they can stay there for numerous years possibly.”

Furthermore, Willink states bull sharks have been documented as far as 2,000 miles upstream in the Amazon River, a couple of hundred mile farther 보다 the distance between Lake Michigan and also the nearest saltwater. So the is theoretically feasible for a bull shark to swim to Lake Michigan, if it might find a viable route.

One course a shark can take to Lake Michigan is the St. Lawrence seaway, beginning the St. Lawrence river north of brand-new Brunswick, Canada, and swimming with Lake Ontario, The Wellend Canal close to Niagara Falls, Lake Erie, Lake Huron, and finally into Lake Michigan. Researchers agree this is most likely impossible since of the great distance, the navigational obstacles, and most importantly, due to the fact that the water of the Gulf of St. Lawrence in ~ the enntrance gate to the Seaway is far too cold for bull sharks. Their northernmost selection is Massachussets, 7 hundred mile to the south.

The an ext likely route, according to scientists, would be via the Mississippi River and also Illinois River and Canal System. There are couple of obstacles to avoid a bull shark from getting to the Illinois River, and also in fact, bull sharks have been occasionally spotted close to St. Louis. But if she curious what all it would certainly take because that a shark to gain from the Mississippi flow Delta come Lake Michigan in the first place, we’ve placed together the details:


If the shark did somehow manage to obtain through all eight locks and also gates, it would certainly face another immediate problem:The water is also cold. Bull sharks choose water warmer than seventy degrees fahrenheit, and Lake Michigan’s water is only that warm during a few weeks every year. That means the bull shark would have to achieve all that this in a really short period of time, or, as Kevin Irons points out, uncover one of the places warm water is discharged right into the lake by power plants. Neither Irons no one the Shedd Aquarium’s Phillip Willink will go so far to speak a shark can never do it come Lake Michigan and also survive long enough to strike a person, but both think about the odds to be outlandishly high.

Of course, the shark might have had help. A shark could definitely have been brought to Lake Michigan in a water tank top top a truck, an airplane, or helicopter, possibly in a comparable scenario to the one confronted by Batman in the 1966 film, Batman. We know this type of point happens, because at least two dead saltwater sharks have been uncovered in Lake Michigan.


One was later revealed together a prank, and also scientists think the various other may have actually been a prank, or perhaps a discarded pet. Phillip Willink admits the Shedd aquarium has several sharks swimming in tanks just a couple of feet from the waters the Lake Michigan, but promises “We store them in the building at every times.” Kevin Irons permits a infant shark might arrive in a cargo ship’s ballast water tank, however it would most likely die in the lake. It would have to survive numerous years, living v the frigid winters, avoiding predation, until it was large enough to attack a child. Again, all of this is exceedingly unlikely.

The um, shark’s this in the coffin?

Shark assaults make the news. Editors and also reporters know there’s other fascinating and horrific about toothed fatality emerging from tranquil waters in a holidays spot to destroy somebody’s week. If a shark did attack somebody in Chicago, friend would intend to watch it in the Chicago newspapers. You would suppose anniversary stories, story pegged to “Shark Week”, and also “where space they now?” stories around Lawson and Adler. We have accessibility to seek archives for significant Chicago newspapers and also we discovered that none lugged a shark strike story. This, much more than any other piece of evidence, really provides the case that the bull shark story is an city legend

And one additional point. Often, city legends have actually their grounding in part true yet prosaic story. Over time the details space exaggerated and magnified into one enduring fiction. But there shows up to it is in absolutely nothing CLOSE come the 1955 shark attack in any type of records. Till 1975. Over there are recommendations to Lawson in the Tribune’s “Action Line” column, and also the more quickly one: October 1975, and also it referrals a magazine referred to as Killer Sharks: The Jaws of Death, also published in 1975, the same year as Felix Dennis’ Man-Eating Sharks. All 3 verifiable referrals of George Lawson take place in 1975, the year the Jaws, and also a year defined by extreme shark interest civilization wide. This cluster of references argues a most likely scenario: Somebody, possibly among Felix Dennis’ authors, perhaps the Jaws of fatality publishers, possibly the publishers of one more mysterious publication or newspaper designed come capitalize top top the Jaws phenomenon; somebody just made the whole thing increase to offer magazines and also make a quick buck. If that fabricator would only come forward, that would conserve our questioners, and the city of Chicago, a good deal that frustration.

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Our questioners

Adam Kovac request his version of the question earlier in 2012, in the at an early stage days the the Curious City project. He was surprised and pleased as soon as he heard us were finally tackling his question, three years (and several swimming seasons) later. Us were unable to speak to him because of scheduling difficulties. Young name Winiarz’s day task is together a writer in corporate communication and also a mother of a ten year old boy, Matty, who also likes sharks. In what spare time she deserve to scrape up, she write fiction. Perhaps, it’s the romance novelist in her that renders her speak she desires the shark story to it is in true: “I would, actually. I median he lived, for this reason it’s not terribly tragic.” quiet unsatisfied, she discussed the opportunity of going through hospital documents to discover a patient named George Lawson in 1955. As soon as we argued that may prove a wild goose chase, she no sure: “The jury is still the end on the goose chasey-ness the this the this, but it’s enough potential for a goose follow to to speak I could be spinning mine wheels.”

Jesse Dukes is Curious City’s audio producer, and he knows a thing or two about sharks. Thanks to Emily Charnock because that sharkival assistance.