Erie Canal, The
DESCRIPTION: "I've got a mule, her name is Sal, Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal." "Low bridge, everybody down, Low bridge, for we're going through a town...." About the long, slow trip along the Erie Canal -- and the mule the singer works with
AUTHOR: Thomas S. Allen?
EARLIEST DATE: 1905
KEYWORDS: canal animal nonballad work
1825 - Erie Canal opens (construction began in 1817)
FOUND IN: US(MA,MW)
REFERENCES (11 citations):
Thompson-BodyBootsAndBritches-NewYorkStateFolktales, pp. 249-250, "Low Bridge, Everybody Down/I've Got a Mule, Her Name Is Sal" (2 short texts)
Sandburg-TheAmericanSongbag, pp. 171-173, "The Erie Canal" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax/Lomax-AmericanBalladsAndFolkSongs, pp. 457-458, "The Erie Canal" (1 text plus a separate verse which may or may not be part of the same song); p. 464, "Erie Canal" (2 texts, the first going here while the second is "The Raging Canal (I)"); p. 466, "(A Trip on the Erie)" (the second song files under the title "A Trip on the Erie," but is actually this piece); pp. 467-469, "Low Bridge, Everybody Down or Fifteen Years on the Erie Canal" (1 text, 1 tune)
Spaeth-ReadEmAndWeep, pp. 102-103, "The Erie Canal" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fireside-Book-of-Folk-Songs, p. 37, "The Erie Canal" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber/Silber-FolksingersWordbook, p. 126, "The Erie Canal" (1 text)
Averill-CampSongsFolkSongs, p. 230, "Erie Canal" (notes only)
Tobitt-TheDittyBag, pp. 74-75, "The Erie Canal" (1 text, 1 tune)
GirlScout-PocketSongbook, pp. 34-35, "The Erie Canal" (1 text, 1 tune)
OneTuneMore, p. 17, "Erie Canal" (1 text, 1 tune)
Mack Allen (pseud. for Vernon Dalhart), "Low Bridge, Everybody Down" (Harmony 931-H/Velvet Tone 1831-V/Diva 2831-G, 1929 (Note: this is a different recording from the one issued on Columbia under Dalhart's own name; that was electrically recorded, whereas this was acoustically recorded.)
Vernon Dalhart, "Low Bridge Everybody Down" (Columbia 15378-D, 1929)
Edward Meeker, "Low Bridge! Everybody Down" (CYL: Edison [BA] 1761, 1913)
Billy Murray, "Low Bridge! Everybody Down!" (Victor 17250, 1913; rec. 1912)
Peerless Quartette, "Low Bridge, Everybody Down" (Columbia A1296, 1913; rec. 1912)
Pete Seeger, "Erie Canal, " (PeteSeeger31) (on PeteSeeger46)
cf. "A Trip on the Erie (Haul in Your Bowline)"
cf. "The E-ri-e" (plot)
cf. "The Raging Canal (I)"
cf. "Bullhead Boat" (subject)
NOTES [285 words]: The Erie Canal, as originally constructed, was a small, shallow channel which could only take barges. These vessels -- if such they could be called -- were normally hauled along by mules.
The "low bridge" call is not a joke. Bruce Catton, Michigan, A History, 1972, 1976 (I use the 1984 Norton edition), pp. 76-77, tells of the troubles passengers who went west in the boats on the Erie (which was largely responsible for opening the way to Michigan, e.g.) could expect:
"The main cabin was narrow, low-ceilinged, fuggy as the black hole of Calcutta, both sides lined with bunks, tables in the center for meals, bar and galley at the rear, tiny cabin for women passengers forward, means of ventilation grossly inadequate and shut off entirely in rainy weather. To stay alive most passengers remained on deck as much as they could, although someone had to stay alert and give the warning cry, 'Low bridge!' so that everyone could lie flat when the boat passed under a highway bridge the overhead clearance being almost nonexistent."
The Lomaxes, in American Ballad and Folk Songs, thoroughly mingled many texts of the Erie Canal songs (in fairness, some of this may have been the work of their informants -- but in any case the Lomaxes did not help the problem). One should check all the Erie Canal songs for related stanzas.
It is interesting to note that Edward Harrigan and David Braham wrote a song "Oh! Dat Low Bridge!" (Finson-Edward-Harrigan-David-Braham, vol. II, #122, pp. 139-141) that begins "It's many miles to Buffalo, Oh, dat low bridge, Balky mule he travel slow, Oh, dat low bridge...." It also talks about the cook. How much inspiration flowed between that song and this I do not know. - RBW
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