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Remembering the Spaulding Pond Dam flood of 1963

March 6 will mark 58 years since the deadly Spaulding Pond Dam collapse in which six Norwich residents lost their lives.

On that day, we remember Madeline Atterbury, Alexander Pobol, Helen Roode, Anna Louise Barrett, Mae Caroline Robidou and Margaret “Honey” Moody.

It had rained heavily on March 5, 1963, and on March 6, sometime between 4:30 and 8 p.m., Norwich Public Works Director Harold Walz personally inspected the Spaulding Pond Dam for seepage.

At 9:20 p.m., Walz contacted Norwich police informing them of the leakage and that the dam might collapse, at which time a notification was issued to the public.

At 9:25 p.m., WICH Radio was contacted to request that a city-wide alert be broadcast. At 9:37 p.m., the dam collapsed.

The main flood waters, which consisted of ice, rocks and trees, engulfed the baseball field known as Bates Pond (present-day Mohegan Park Apartments), crossed over Hickory Street, City Garage Brook Street, Baltic Street and Broad Street. The 75-year-old Turner-Stanton Mill was directly in its path.

At 10:14 p.m., the Turner Stanton Mill employee punch clock stopped and all electrical power in the facility was lost in a 12-foot-high water wave. There were eight employees working who raced to the third floor, but rescue crews could not each them; three employees were saved by a shelter of boxes and girders.

At 9:30 p.m. Thomas “Ron” Moody Sr. had just arrived home from work. At 9:45, there was banging on their window telling them to evacuate. He requested assistance from 19-year-old Tony Orsini; Honey Moody wanted to take her sons Tommy Jr., age 4; Jimmy, age 2; and Shawn, age 6 months, to her mom’s home on the west side of town.

The Moody car proceeded down Lake Street and as it rounded the corner, Honey screamed for her husband; they were directly in its path. The floodwaters floated their car off the road, upward into its swirling mass, rolling over twice, and landing with its tail tilted upward.

Orsini got out first carrying Tommy; Honey grabbed Jimmy and handed him to Ron, who passed him to Orsini. Honey then passed Shawn to Ron, who cradled him. The car then shifted, and as Ron grabbed Honey’s hand, she was swept away.

Orsini said “Ron, she’s gone.”

Quickly, they spied a tree. With Orsini holding Jimmy’s hand, Shawn zipped safely under his jacket and Ron holding Tommy’s hand, they duck-walked and climbed into the ‘V’ ofthe tree. They were rescued several hours later, and the boys spent several days in the hospital. Ron stayed at the hospital with his sons and Orsini returned home heartbroken.

The fact that he could not save Honey continues to consume him, even today.

At 7:15 a.m. the following day, Honey’s body was found by her brother Jerry 20 feet from the overturned car.

According to newspaper sources, there were 78 property damage suit claims and 12 personal injury suit claims resulting from the flood. Between 1965 and 1966, the new dam was built.

On March 4, 2006, a memorial service was held at Mohegan Park to mark the installation of a permanent monument commemorating the six victims of the tragedy.

Seven years later, on the 50th anniversary of the flood, Thomas R. Moody Jr. published “A Swift and Deadly Maelstrom: The Great Norwich Flood of 1963, A Survivors Story.”

That same year, in 2013, the “Tree of Life” that helped save Moody was entered into the Connecticut College Notable Tree Database, available at conncoll.edu.

And on July 26, 2014, the Norwich Historical Society held a Dedication of the Tree of Life with a memorial plaque placed at the site of the Notable Tree. My poem “Tree of Life” was read, and a song, “Norwich’s Lifesaving Tree,” was performed by Tom Callinan, former Connecticut State Troubadour.

In October 2014, I helped lead the Last Green Valley Spaulding Pond Dam Flood Walks. And on Aug. 24 of last year, a virtual walk was videoed with The Last Green Valley and Norwich Historical Society Executive Director Regan Miner present. Video participants included me, Tony Orsini, Dan Kelly, John Waggoner, and Mike Waggoner. This virtual walk is available at youtu.be/Lb3Zd6pCvzw.

Memories of the Spaulding Dam flood and the Tree of Life rescue recall the June 26, 2014, installation of a shadowbox at Norwich City Hall. The box contains a cutting of the tree, photos and a copy of “A Swift and Deadly Maelstrom.”

The book is inscribed by Tom Jr. as follows: “To The Tree of Life … Savior, Longtime Companion and Stalwart Friend – As I gaze out upon you during these few times when I have the opportunity to be home, I still remember your strength, fortitude and lifesaving grace. My Family owes you our lives and as you’ve grown these many years into a formidable Connecticut Tree, I’m confident that, in your youth, 51 years ago, you would have still been able to rescue one more… Thank You from one of those Survivors and here’s wishing you a long life indeed. Thomas Moody”

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