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Norwich recognizes role of famous maple tree in saving lives

By Claire Bessette

Publication: theday.com

Published June 26. 2014 3:50PM   Updated June 27. 2014 12:01AM
Tim Cook/The Day
Norwich Flood survivor Tony Orsini holds up his grandson, Anthony Gerve, 6, of Norwich so Gerve can get a better look at the photos and limb from the Norwich Tree of Life Thursday as the Norwich Historical Society and town officials commemorate the tree at Norwich City Hall.

Norwich – About 25 people gathered Thursday afternoon to see a different sort of key presentation at City Hall.

Instead of Mayor Deberey Hinchey presenting the key to the city to some dignitary, members of the Norwich Historical Society handed over the key to a new glass-front wooden display case installed on the wall outside the mayor’s office.

The display case, called a shadow box, contains the limb of a common sugar maple tree that stands near Franklin Street, photos of the devastating March 6, 1963, flood that raged through downtown and photos of the Moody family and friend Tony Orsini, who climbed into the nondescript tree that saved their lives.

On that March 6 day, Orsini, Thomas Moody Sr. and his wife, Margaret, “Honey,” Moody grabbed their three young boys, Thomas Jr., Shawn and Jim, jumped into the car and tried to outrun the flood from their vulnerable Lake Street home. They didn’t make it beyond a sharp curve toward Franklin Street when the rushing water flipped the car.

Orsini and the two adults raised the children onto a shed roof and into the tree before the flood waters carried Honey Moody away to her death.

In 2013, the Norwich Historical Society obtained state designation of the still-standing maple tree as a “Connecticut Notable Tree.” Norwich resident and former state troubadour Tom Callinan wrote a commemorative song, “Norwich’s Lifesaving Tree,” and at 10 a.m. on July 26 the historical society will place a commemorative plaque near the tree, which is located on private property.

Shawn Moody, who was just 3 months old during the flood, and Jim Moody, who was 3 years old at the time, attended today’s ceremony. Both said they were pleased to see the tree recognized, but added that Orsini always will be the family’s hero and friend for his deeds that day.

The two men have no memories of the flood, but heard stories growing up about the disaster that took their mother’s and five others’ lives.

“As we were growing up, as we drove past it, we would stop and look,” Jim Moody, now of Canterbury, said.

“I stopped there today,” Shawn Moody of Colchester said.

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