Ever since John Campopiano started visiting Martha’s Vineyard in the 1990s, to connect with what he calls the “ ‘Jaws’ energy” emanating from the island where the movie was filmed, he’s dreamed of coming across a new artifact or item related to the 1975 blockbuster.
During a recent trip with his wife, Stephanie, that wish came true.
After the couple made a short pilgrimage to the seaside house used for the home of Chief Brody, one of the movie’s protagonists, they got to talking to Billy Reagan, owner of the Attleboro House, the inn where they were staying.
“He asked what we had going on, and we told him we went to see the ‘Jaws’ house, and he said, ‘Oh, you’re a “Jaws” fan, huh?’ ” Campopiano said. “My wife chuckled and grinned, and I told him I’m a big fan and have been collecting for years.”
That’s when Reagan, whose family has operated the inn on the island for decades, said he might have something of interest for Campopiano: a trove of pictures that his family took when the iconic flick was being filmed there more than 40 years ago, complete with images of director Steven Spielberg and the monster itself.
“He told us he had photos from the set, and that his brother was an extra and they took photos when they were filming in town. He said he’d try to see if he could dig them out,” Campopiano said. “I said to myself, ‘Well, that’s a very nice gesture.’ But I didn’t expect he would find them or have time to look.”
Soon after, however, he got a text from Reagan, who delivered on his promise.
“I felt my heart rate go up looking at these photos,” said Campopiano, a documentarian and avid cult and horror movie buff. “As a ‘Jaws’ fan, I was freaking out. It was just so exciting.”
Reagan said he dug the images, which were stuffed in an envelope marked “Jaws,” out of the inn’s basement, a search that took him about an hour.
The stash includes one of Spielberg sitting in a chair talking to a crowd of people gathered around. There’s also a shot of a technician toiling away inside the head of “Jaws” while on a dock, and scenes of shark fins floating in the waters near the shoreline.
“Everyone on Martha’s Vineyard was taking pictures at that time. There were a lot of people interested in it for the fact that it was a movie,” Reagan, 63, said in a telephone interview. “But no one knew the scale or success that movie would have back then — unless they have a crystal ball I don’t know about.”
In his years obsessing over the Academy Award-winning film, which was released in theaters on June 20, 1975, Campopiano (people might know him as the “Boston Yeti”) has amassed a group of friends who dedicate much of their time to the classic thriller.
When he got his hands on Reagan’s photos, he immediately reached out to one of those friends: Jim Beller, perhaps the foremost collector of “Jaws” memorabilia and cocreator of “Jaws: Memories From Martha’s Vineyard,” a coffee table book detailing the history of the movie and its ties to the island.
Campopiano wanted to know whether the images Reagan provided had ever been viewed by the general public.
“Jim told me he had never seen them and that they weren’t part of his book,” Campopiano said. “That got me really excited because I knew that probably meant that the world had not seen these before.”
Beller, who helped gather photos for the book, which was written by Matt Taylor and includes a foreword by Spielberg himself, said he was shocked to learn there were actually pictures taken from the set that even he had never seen.
“When I saw these photos I was like, ‘Oh my God, how did we miss these?’ ” he said, laughing.
Beller said the most impressive photograph in the bunch is a black-and-white image of one of the three shark models used in the film, a picture that Reagan said was taken by his cousin.
“It’s always cool to see new photos,” Beller said. “I’m glad that John found them.”
Reagan, who was a senior in high school at the time “Jaws” was filmed, said the images have mostly been shared with family and friends over the years, and they only come out of the basement from time to time.
He gave Campopiano permission to post them in an article on TheWrap.com recently, officially making them part of the larger canon about how the cult classic came to be.
Campopiano said his biggest takeaway is that there could be more photos or artifacts out there that the general public has never seen before — and he hopes sharing Reagan’s family photos will encourage more longtime island residents to dig up their own.
“Who knows what else is out there?” he said. “That really gets my juices going.”
As for the chance encounter with Reagan that led him to the photos, Campopiano called it a stroke of luck.
“Meeting Billy, and the ‘Jaws’ stuff, was a very happy accident,” he said.