Erie Canal Stories


An undated photo of my mom and her siblings, looking down into a hatch of their Erie Canal barge, in the late 1930s. My mom is in the upper left. Next to her is my uncle Fred, then my uncle Harry, my aunt Vivian and my uncle Morey. In the upper right is my uncle Norman. My uncle Norman went on to become chief engineer for a tugboat company in the New York area. My uncle Morey became a sea-tug captain. My uncle Fred joined The US Navy and later became a tugboat captain as well. Only my mom and my uncle Fred survive today.

My Uncle Morey and Uncle Norman were quite the pranksters back in the day. There are many low bridges crossing The Erie Canal along its length, with enough clearance for the barges. During Halloween, young ruffians would egg barges from the bridges, much to the annoyance of my uncles who had to clean up the mess. There was a water pump on the barge, connected to a hose, that my uncles used to wash the deck. They got their revenge though. My Uncle Norman would hide below the forward hatch, hose at the ready. As the barge passed below the bridge it would get egged. At a signal from my Morey, Norman would pop the hatch, yell “surprise!” and hose down the perpetrators from the opposite side of the bridge.

When the hold was empty, my grandfather would rig a wooden swing attached to a cross beam between the hatches. It was an unusual sight to see one of the children pop up on the swing from one hatch and then appear again, on the swing, from the other hatch.

Seventy-five years ago, my Uncle Morey was part of the buildup leading to D-Day in 1944. He was a pilot on The Erie Canal, guiding landing craft manufactured in Detriot, MI, that would carry troops to the beaches of Normandy, from Buffalo to New York City. As soon as he arrived in New York City, he would board a train back to Buffalo to guide another group of landing craft through the canal. At the time, my grandparents, and my other aunts and uncles lived in Brooklyn, NY. After one trip down to New York City, he sort of went AWOL to visit the family. He didn’t get very far before FBI agents challenged him and put him on the next train to Buffalo.