Another Shark Week is upon us. Yes, it’s that time of year where the most fundamentally sound concept takes over broadcast television. The idea is this: Show people sharks for a week. That’s it. The documentaries (scientifically accurate or no) don’t need to work on a second level because Lamniformes blow the human mind. And it has always been thus. Just ask America’s first great painter (sorry Trumbull), John Singleton Copley.
Copley was a New England boy, trained at least in part by his stepfather and particularly gifted with oils. He was also a big-time snob, who saw Boston as a provincial cow town unable to provide him with the sophisticated audience he deserved.
Even as anti-colonial sentiment went horse-and-buggy viral, Copley looked to London and dreamt of meeting the Europeans giving him props for the portraits he’d had hung in foreign exhibits. In 1774, he booked a ride and made his way to London, where crossed paths (likely for the second time) with English trader Brook Watson, who was then lobbying for the execution of Ethan Allen. More interested in art than politics, Copley must have listened attentively as Watson explained how he’d come to have a piratical peg leg.
The story, which seems just true enough to justify inclusion in the Shark Attack Database, went like this: In his days as a sailor, Watson had been swimming in Havana harbor when he was attacked by a massive shark that grabbed him by his shin. The shark circled back for the kill, but fellow members of Watson’s crew got there in time and speared the beast, saving the would-be merchant from death by gnashing jaws.
It is hardly improbable that someone was attacked in Havana Harbor. Though most sharks are not particularly liable to attack humans, Tiger Sharks, which were fairly common off of Cuba and Florida, are opportunistic hunters.