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Recalling the state’s last fatal shark attack

A copy shot of a copy shot from the New Bedford Standard-Times 75 years ago.
Globe staff photo/Bill Greene
A copy shot of a copy shot from the New Bedford Standard-Times 75 years ago.

The state’s last fatal shark attack unfolded on a clear, sunny day, July 25, 1936.

That day, Joseph C. Troy, 16, known as a strong swimmer, and a family friend, Walter Styles, decided to swim out to meet an oncoming sailboat, the Black Cat.

But when they were about 150 yards offshore from Hollywood Beach in Mattapoisett, a 6-foot shark began circling the pair. It seized Troy by the left leg and dragged him underwater, news accounts said. Seconds later, Troy bobbed to the surface with wounds to his legs, arms, and hands. The Dorchester resident died hours later at St. Luke’s Hospital.

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Fears about shark attacks return every summer now, as sure as crowds flock to the Cape. Just Wednesday, a great white bit into a paddleboard off Marconi Beach. Days earlier, a shark took a fatal bite out of a seal off Nauset beach, and the water turned red. Cue the “Jaws” theme.

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A Barnstable County official has proposed placing special traps in Cape Cod waters to kill off great whites swimming too close to public beaches — an idea criticized by shark experts.

But in 1936, sharks in area waters were a rarity — and a bit of a mystery. In a story following the fatal attack, the Globe wrote: “Shark menace on the New England seacoast? Absurd!’’

The shock was what made Troy’s death such a sensational story in 1936.

News of the attack spread quickly along the beach that day, and a crowd gathered as Troy was pulled from the water. Many thought Troy had simply drowned.

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“We just knew that one of the fellows was in bad trouble,’’ said Martin Smith, whose family’s summer cottage was nearby, told the Globe in 2011. Smith, 13 at the time of the attack, had been eating lunch when he heard a commotion at the pier. He didn’t initially know what happened, “just that he had been bitten by something large.’’

Styles, the family friend, received a medal from the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission for his efforts to save Troy. Styles, a Boston biochemist, locked his arm in Troy’s and swam toward the sailboat, yelling for assistance. The wounded teen was brought ashore in a dinghy.

Roy Greene can be reached at roy.greene@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @roygreene.