When John R. Hayes Sr., 48, a visitor from New Jersey, spotted the crisis near Terrapin Point that day, July 9, 1960, he dashed to the railing — less than 200 feet from the brink of the Horseshoe Falls — and started shouting.
"Kick, girl! Kick your feet, come to me!" he screamed to Deanne Woodward, 17, tossing in the rapids above the 161-foot Horseshoe Falls. She had been riding in a boat with her brother, Roger Woodward, 7, and James Honeycutt, 42, who had taken the children on an outing for Deanne's birthday. When their disabled craft drifted into the upper rapids, it soon capsized, spilling the trio into the unpredictable currents.
Lots of tourists were standing around that prime viewing area but only one — John Quattrochi of Penns Grove, N.J. — volunteered for the team effort to save the teenager from almost certain death. "It was John (Quattrochi) who raced over to help," recalled Hayes, marking his 100th birthday earlier this week. Within seconds, Hayes was leaning out as far as he could, Quattrochi firmly grasping his legs. Deanne also remembers: "That voice (Hayes) came out of nowhere and he was telling me what to do. I was so tired that I was almost ready to give up." As she floated closer to the shoreline, Hayes snatched her extended hand. The two men lifted her out of the water and gently placed her on the pathway close to the river. "My thoughts were never on myself," Hayes said, "I just saw a desperate need and did what I had to do to meet that need. Do I dream about it sometimes? Yes, and thoughts about how my family would be taken care of if something happened to me."
Meanwhile, in what the media has dubbed "The Miracle of Niagara," Roger, wearing only a frayed lifejacket for protection, was swept over the falls, landing in the churning waters. A crew on the Maid of the Mist sightseeing boat heading into the Horseshoe, plucked him to safety. Honeycutt was killed in the steep plunge and his body recovered several days later.
"My uncle (Hayes) is doing just fine," said Bernard Burns, who operates a printing business in New Jersey. "In fact, he was riding his bike regularly right up until he was 95," Burns added. A retired police officer, Hayes also was a tour bus driver for several years.
Meanwhile, Roger, 59, is now an executive with a Huntsville, Ala.-based realty firm. His sister, Deanne Woodward Simpson, 69, lives in Lakeland, Fla. Quattrochi, who lived in Penns Grove, N.J., died more than 20 years ago.
For years, it seemed, the family was virtually hounded by the press. In an interview with a Gazette reporter a few years ago, Roger said: "My sister and I really didn't ever talk about that day. Our mother had told us years ago that we needed to put it behind us and to realize how fortunate we were to survive."
There was, however, an exception, Roger admitted, "When one of my sons was in elementary school and asked if I would come to class and do a show-and-tell, I was glad t do it."
Family and friends are honoring Hayes at a party today . The printed invitation featured a photo of him sitting on his motorcycle. In his hometown of Vauxhall, N.J., he's being hailed as "Our Hero of the Century."