The popular song "Low Bridge, Everybody Down" 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. Also known as "Fifteen Years on the Erie Canal", "Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal", "Erie Canal Song", and "Mule Named Sal", 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 tune is sadly nostalgic.
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.
Early 20th century recordings of the song include ones by Billy Murray and Vernon Dalhart. The song has become part of the folk repertoire, recorded by folksingers like Glenn Yarborough, Pete Seeger and the Weavers, The Kingston Trio, the children's series Veggie Tales, and artists like the Sons of the Pioneers. Dan Zanes included it on a children's album with Suzanne Vega singing lead. Bruce Springsteen recorded the song on his 2006 album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. The cartoon series Animaniacs 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.
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