Did a shark attack occur in Lake Michigan? Here’s what Tribune reporters discovered in the 1970s. (2024)

Following the release of the movie “Jaws” in the summer of 1975, Tribune readers had questions about a reported shark attack in Lake Michigan from years earlier and submitted them to the paper’s “Action line,” which — at the time — “answers questions, solves problems and cuts red tape.”

What follows are a sampling of the answers provided by Tribune reporters.

Was a young woman killed by a shark in Lake Michigan?

This was originally published in the Chicago Tribune on Aug. 12, 1975:

Q: My children and the girls at work don’t believe me, but with all this “Jawsmania” going around I do believe a young lady was killed and no one could figure out how this shark got into the lake. Could you help me out or did I dream this?

— Joan S., North Side

A: You’re correct in recalling that a shark was found, but you must have dreamed the attack. It was a real shark, but a hoax. Two Coho fishermen pulled a 29-inch shark from Lake Michigan about two miles off the Milwaukee shore on April 25, 1969. The shark was dead, but for several days fishermen in the area were uneasy. Ensuing publicity regarding the prospect of sharks in the lake and whether they posed a threat to swimmers brought forth a confession from a tavern owner (William Bathke), who said two of his customers planted the fish in the lake for him as a joke. He had caught the shark in Florida a couple of years before and had kept it in his freezer, he said. Petty Officer Richard Stanberry with the United States Coast Guard told us the Guard receives reports of sharks, alligators, and other pets being put into the lake, but assures you no attacks have been reported.

Was a boy named George Lawson killed by a shark in Lake Michigan?

This was originally published in the Chicago Tribune on Oct. 13, 1975:

Q: After assuring my children they would not be attacked by sharks if they swam in Lake Michigan, I found an account of a shark killing a Chicago boy by the name of George Lawson in the lake. It appeared in a magazine titled “Killer Sharks: Jaws of Death.” Could you investigate?

— Jeannine Thompson, Arlington Heights

A: In our business, it’s easier to prove something did happen rather than that it didn’t and somebody made it up. The account to which you refer doesn’t have much going for it. Our files record no such incident under the listing of his name or sharks, and it certainly would be newsworthy. We called the publishers of the magazine in Montreal and were told by staff member Jack Dean:

This was originally published in the Chicago Tribune on Oct. 2, 1978:

Q: My son, like many other boys his age, is fascinated by sharks. In a book I was reading recently there is an account of an attack on a swimmer, George Lawson, in Lake Michigan. According to the author, Lawson lost his leg to the “infamous Carcharhinus Springer.” This attack supposedly occurred in the summer of 1955. Since I lived in Chicago at that time, and then, as I do now, had some interest in sharks. I had a hard time believing that such a rare event would have been widely published by the Chicago media. Can you tell me if this story is true?

— John Phillips, Woodland Hills, Calif.

A: The story is pure myth. There was a shark found in Lake Michigan, but there has never been an attack. It was a real 29-inch shark not a fake, that two Coho fishermen pulled from the lake about two miles off the Milwaukee shore on April 25, 1969. The shark was dead, but for several days fishermen in the area were uneasy. Ensuing publicity regarding the prospect of sharks in the lake brought forth a confession from a tavern owner, who said two of his customers planted the fish in the lake for him as a joke. He had caught the shark in Florida a couple of years before and kept it in his freezer, he said.

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Did a shark attack occur in Lake Michigan? Here’s what Tribune reporters discovered in the 1970s. (2024)

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