Low Bridge (song)

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Cover of sheet music published in 1915.

The popular song "Fifteen Years on the Erie Canal" was written in 1905 by Thomas S. Allen after Erie Canal barge traffic was converted from mule power to engine power, raising the speed of traffic. The tune is sadly nostalgic. Also known as "Low Bridge, Everybody Down," "The Erie Canal Song," "Mule Named Sal," and "Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal," the song memorializes the years from 1825 to 1880 when the mule barges made boomtowns out of Utica, Rome, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo, and transformed New York into the Empire State.

The music cover (right) published in 1915 depicts a boy on a mule getting down to pass under a bridge, but the song refers to travelers who would typically ride on top of the boats. The low bridges would require them to get down out of the way to allow safe passage under a bridge.[1]

The song has become part of the folk repertoire, recorded by folksingers like Glenn Yarborough, Pete Seeger and the Weavers, The Kingston Trio and the children's series Veggie Tales, and western artists like the Sons of the Pioneers. Dan Zanes included it on a children's album with Suzanne Vega singing lead. Bruce Springsteen also recorded the song on his 2006 album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. The cartoon series Animaniacs also parodied "Low Bridge" with their song about the Panama Canal. The lyrics are also the text of the book The Erie Canal (1970), illustrated by Peter Spier.

Traditional Lyrics[edit]

Low Bridge

I've got a mule, her name is Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
She's a good old worker and a good old pal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal

We've hauled some barges in our day
Filled with lumber, coal, and hay
And every inch of the way I (we) know
From Albany to Buffalo

Chorus:
Low bridge, everybody down
Low bridge cause we're coming to a town
And you'll always know your neighbor
And you'll always know your pal
If you've ever navigated on the Erie Canal

Get up there Sal, we've passed that lock,
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
And we'll make Rome before six o'clock
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal

One more trip and back we'll go
Through the rain and sleet and snow
And every inch of the way I (we) know
From Albany to Buffalo

Low bridge, everybody down
Low bridge for we're coming to a town
And you'll always know your neighbor
And you'll always know your pal
If you've ever navigated on the Erie Canal.

Variations[edit]

Like most folk songs, the lyrics of The Erie Canal Song has changed over time. The most obvious changes from Thomas Allen's original version has been changing the word years to miles. Allen's original version commemorates 15 years of working along the canal with Sal. The new version using the word miles refers to the average distance a mule would tow a barge before resting or being relieved by another mule.

Another change is in the second verse. The current line: "Git up there mule, here comes a lock" is a change from the original line: "Get up there gal, we've passed that lock". The current version does not necessarily make as much sense as the former. The former refers to how mules would rest while waiting for barges to lock through, and then need to be instructed when to start again. The current implies speeding up when a lock is within sight. Without brakes or a simple way to slow a barge, this would not necessarily be the best course of action.


Another Version------------

I've got a mule and her name is Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
She's a good old worker and a good old pal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal

We haul'd some barges in our day
Filled with lumber, coal and hay
We know every inch of the way
From Albany to Buffalo

Low bridge, everybody down
Low bridge, we're comin' to a town
And you'll always know your neighbor
And you'll always know your pal
If ya ever navigated on the Erie Canal

We'd better look around for a job, old gal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
You can bet your life I'll never part with Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal

Get up mule, here comes a lock
We'll make Rome 'bout six o'clock
One more trip and back we'll go
Right back home to Buffalo

Low bridge, everybody down
Low bridge, we're comin' to a town
You'll always know your neighbor
And you'll always know your pal
If ya ever navigated on the Erie Canal

Where would I be if I lost my pal?
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal
I'd like to see a mule good as my Sal
Fifteen miles on the Erie Canal

A friend of mine once got her sore
Now he's got a broken jaw
'Cause she let fly with an iron toe
And kicked him back to Buffalo

Low bridge, everybody down
Low bridge, 'cause we're comin' to a town
You'll always know your neighbor
And you'll always know your pal
If ya ever navigated on the Erie Canal

Low bridge, everybody down
Low bridge, we're comin' to a town
You'll always know your neighbor
And you'll always know your pal
If ya ever made a livin' on the Erie Canal

(Low bridge, everybody down)
(Low bridge, we're comin' to a town)

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.eriecanalsong.com/