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Erie Canal Bash
October 16, 2013 - Bill Ackerbauer
This Sunday, Oct. 20, Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site in Fort Hunter will host an "Erie Canal Birthday Bash" to celebrate the 188th anniversary of the opening of Clinton's Ditch. The event will take place from 1 to 4 p.m., and it will feature walking tours of the site, along with birthday cake, pumpkin-painting and a number of historical and archaeological activities. Warning: This event will be BYOM (bring your own mule).
I have been asked to provide some appropriately old-timey fiddle and banjo music at the event, so I've been brushing up on the lyrics to a couple of the most popular canal songs. Everybody knows "15 Miles on the Erie Canal," also known as "Low Bridge, Everybody Down," which tells of a canal teamster and his intrepid mule, Sal. But few realize that song was written 1905, long after the heyday of the canal was over, that mode of transport having been largely surpassed by the more efficient locomotive by the mid-19th century.
A slightly less well known piece is my personal favorite: "The E-ri-E," which is likely an older song about the dangers of "sailing" on the canal. The joke, of course, is that operating a barge along a five-foot deep channel of water, with dry land within spitting distance on either side, was hardly as perilous as sailing on the open sea. Even sailing on the Great Lakes is more dangerous.
For your viewing and listening pleasure, here are some YouTube offerings on the subject:
First, my friends Michael Eck and Tom Lindsay, the Lost Radio Rounders, doing "The E-ri-E":
Dave Ruch, a Buffalo-area musician, is an authority on Erie Canal songs. Here he is performing a little-known canal song called "Oh! Dat Low Bridge":
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