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Norwich flood survivor wanted experience preserved for history

By Claire Bessette

Publication: The Day

Published March 14. 2013 4:00AM

Norwich - As Thomas Moody Jr. grew to adulthood and had children of his own, he realized he didn't want the story of his dramatic rescue and the loss of his mother in the 1963 Spaulding Pond Dam flood to become a vague family legend.

He wanted it to remain a real, strong, emotional story full of facts, heroes, history and sadness.

Moody was 4 on March 6, 1963, when his parents, Thomas and Margaret "Honey" Moody, and his brothers, Jimmy, 2, and Shawn, 6 months, were at their Lake Street home. Someone banged on the door. The Spaulding Pond Dam had burst and the water was headed their way.

Neighbor Tony Orsini, 19, helped the Moodys load their car and try to escape. The wall of water slammed into the sedan on Lake Street. All three adults lifted the children to a roof. When Thomas Sr. reached down to pull his wife from the churning water, in an instant she was swept away.

Moody Jr. was the keynote speaker Wednesday at the Norwich Historical Society's 50th anniversary program on the flood that killed six people - Margaret Moody and five workers at the Turner-Stanton Mill on Broad Street.

Moody has written a new book, "A Swift and Deadly Maelstrom: The Great Norwich Flood of 1963, a Survivor's Story." The 40 copies at Wednesday's program at Slater Auditorium at Norwich Free Academy sold out quickly. The books are available online and will be stocked at the Slater Memorial Museum gift shop and at Johnson's Florist and Gifts in Norwich.

The book took years of research, interviews with survivors, city officials and reporters who covered the flood and the legal battles that ensued.

Moody always had a need to know the exact details of that night. Over the years, he would ask his father pointed questions: Where did the car end up? Where was the roof and the tree they were perched in for an hour? Where was Mom found?

Other family members urged the younger Thomas to back off. Finally, his father responded.

"He said to me, 'Put yourself in my place. I was only trying to save you (kids) and Tony and myself. I had just lost your mother. I wasn't paying attention to where the damn car was,'" Thomas Jr. told about 100 people Wednesday.

The solemn program was not without humor. Moody explained how he learned that famous local author Wally Lamb was writing a fictionalized version of the flood story. In 2010, Lamb invited Moody to return to Norwich from his Texas home to walk the flood route with Orsini to learn some of the answers his father couldn't give him. Lamb attended Wednesday's program.

Lamb presented Moody and Orsini with posters of the front page of The Hartford Times from the day after the flood. He made a third copy for then-Times reporter Dennis Riley of Norwich, who also contributed his recollections to both authors.

Audience members added their memories to the story, recalling friendships with Moody's parents, other flood victims and survivors and businesses hit by the flood.

"There are names in the book that I can relate to," longtime Norwich resident Lewis Randall said. "… It's just a shame that this is what brought us all together."

c.bessette@theday.com

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