Friday, December 2, 2022

The Girl on the Barge/ A Girl on a Barge

In my webinar, The Erie Canal: A Story of Building the Impossible, I include some of the writings about the Erie Canal, historical and fictional. Here's an addition, a fictional story that was made into a successful film. The film has been lost, but the story has been found.

 Although the story in The Girl on the Barge (Universal Pictures, 1929) takes place on the Erie Canal, it was filmed on the Champlain Canal in Whitehall, New York. It received good reviews and did well at the box office but, sadly, no prints of the film have been found. So, this film does not appear in my collection, See the Erie Canal at the Movies. A good synopsis of the movie and its filming in Whitehall can be found here.

However, the movie was based on a story, “A Girl on a Barge,” written by Rupert Hughes, with illustrations by Jules Gotlieb, published in Hearst’s International Combined with Cosmopolitan (Volume 83, October 1927, pages 50-53, 97-98, 100, 102, 104, 106), the magazine better known today simply as Cosmopolitan.

 Here is the story as it appeared in 1927, also available as a pdf file (54mb) here.





Thursday, March 24, 2022

Videos to Accompany "The Erie Canal: A Story of Building the Impossible"

In my presentations about the Erie Canal (e.g., “The Erie Canal: A Story of Building the Impossible”), I often use videos to illustrate specific points. Sometimes I don't have enough time to show them (a full presentation takes at least two hours) so, here they are: 

1. To surmount the 90' height of Cohoes Falls on the Mohawk River, the builders constructed of a series 19 locks on the original 1825 Erie Canal. Here is Cohoes Falls, as seen from Falls View Park.

2. If Cohoes Falls wasn’t a big enough obstacle, they had to overcome the Niagara Escarpment at the other end of the state in Lockport. Here is a view of the 614' high Niagara Falls, as seen from the bottom. 

3. The Nine Mile Creek Aqueduct , originally built in 1844, was restored in 2010. I had a difficult time getting my head around the idea of a canal crossing over on top of a creek or river. This video makes it clear.

4. Given the unprecedented scope and magnitude of the Erie Canal achievement, it’s hard to imagine how people felt when it was completed in 1825. I use this clip, from Ken Burns’ documentary, Brooklyn Bridge, to analogously convey how people might have felt.

5. To suggest what life on the Erie Canal was like, I use some excerpts from the 1935 film, The Farmer Takes a Wife. You can view these scenes here.

6. Most of my presentation focuses on the 19th century Erie Canal. It was replaced by the much bigger New York State Barge Canal. To convey its size, I use a one-minute excerpt from a commercial video, below. The full video (7 minutes), is here.

7. The original entrance to the Erie Canal from the Hudson River is long since buried. This historical map of Albany shows its location, with a modern map superimposed on it.

8. Here is a speeded-up video taken from the bow of Lil’ Diamond II going through Erie Canal Lock 18 in Jacksonburg.

Information on upcoming presentations is here.

Friday, April 9, 2021

New York's Erie Canal American Innovation Coin - U.S. Mint 2021

New York’s Erie Canal
American Innovation Coin
United States Mint 2021

New York State
Erie Canal
U.S. Mint 2021
American Innovation Coin 

Available beginning summer 2021 from the United States Mint!

Read about the American Innovation coin Series here

For more information about the Erie Canal on New York State coins, including alternative designs for this coin,  click here.

Designer: Ronald D. Sanders
Sculptor-Engraver: Phebe Hemphill
Description: The New York $1 coin pays homage to the Erie Canal. This design depicts a packet boat being pulled from a city in the East toward the country areas to the West. Inscriptions are United States of America and New York.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Land Acknowledgement – 200th Anniversary of the Erie Canal

I prepared the following land acknowledgement for a presentation on the Erie Canal. I would appreciate your comments and suggestions. 

While I celebrate the Erie Canal, honor its builders, and appreciate its positive impacts, I acknowledge that the Erie Canal is located on the homelands of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy—the participatory democracy that predates and served as a model for the United States of America—the lands of the indigenous people of the Mohawk, Oneida, Tuscarora, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca nations. I acknowledge the Erie Canal's role in the devastation of their ways of living and their restriction to limited or other lands; negative effects that linger to this day. Further, I acknowledge the negative impacts of the Erie Canal as it fostered the westward travel of European settlers into the lands of the indigenous peoples who made their homes in what are now the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. As we move forward, I advocate the application the Haudenosaunee “Seventh Generation” value: in every decision we make, we consider the impact on the next seven generations. Only by listening to Haudenosaunee and other indigenous peoples will we heal the past and create a more viable future based on respect for all living beings.

~ Sandy Schuman

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Erie Canal Scenes: Hollywood Realistic

In an attempt to provide a realistic—and brief—illustration of life on the Erie Canal, I have excerpted canal and boat scenes from the movie, The Farmer Takes a Wife (1935) (Wikipedia) (IMDB), and arranged them in four one-minute clips.

The story takes place on the Erie Canal, but it was actually filmed on the Lehigh Canal. I believe the canal scenes in the movie present a realistic reflection of life on the Erie Canal.

There are four clips. Each is about one minute long. If you spot anything that strikes you as atypical of the Erie Canal of the 1850s (the period setting of the film), please share your observations in the comment section below or send me an email.

1. Canal & Boats

These clips show the canal and its boats. A brief segment shows a packet boat.

2. Neighbors

This collection of clips is intended to illustrate the neighborly intimacy of life on the canal.

3. Canal Towns

I purposefully removed the soundtrack from these scenes so it doesn't divert attention from the views of the town. Focus your attention on the background scenery (rather than the foreground/ actors). 

  • In the scene at 0.19-0.26, notice the smoke rising from the boats' kitchen stoves and the laundry hanging on the clothesline. 
  • As the characters walk, notice the stores along the canal (one of which they enter at the end of the scene); the Erie Canal is "main street."

4. Life Aboard

Illustrations of the interior of a freight boat are rare. (There is one in Richard Garrity's book, Canal Boatman: My Life on Upstate Waterways.) If these film scenes are anywhere near realistic, I think they would help to convey a sense of life aboard a boat. The furnishings are surely Hollywoodified and, consistent with the story line, the owner of the boat has been furnishing it in anticipation of buying a farm, so they are perhaps oversize for a canal boat. In this case too, I have deleted the soundtrack.

I would appreciate your feedback.


Friday, June 12, 2020

Santa's COVID Guidance

Santa’s COVID Song

COVID 19’s Comin’ to Town*

You better not cough, you better not sneeze
You better stay ’way, I’m beggin’ you please
COVID might be hiding in you.

You better mask up and stay away
Six feet or more, health experts say
COVID might be hiding in you.

It knows if you’ve been washing
And covered mouth and nose
It knows if you’ve been distancing
From friends as well as foes.

On a shopping cart, your phone or cup
It sticks around, so please wash up
COVID Nineteen’s lurking around.

You can’t tell where it’s lurking
It hangs around by stealth
But if it gets into your lungs
It’s a bad thing for your health.


You’re in a big crowd, you’re flirting with death
Here’s my advice, don’t take a breath!
COVID Nineteen’s lurking around.

You won’t know when you get it
It may not make you ill
But others not so lucky
This virus they might kill!


So, I better not cough, I better not sneeze
I better stay ’way, not spread this disease
COVID might be hiding in me!
COVID might be hiding in me!

*Apologies to J. Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie, “Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town,” ©1934

Watch me tell the story behind the song: A Mother's Christmas Warning

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Hunkering Up!

Stay home. Self quarantine. Hunker down.

I have been hunkering down so long, it looks like hunkering up to me.

A scene from perhaps 20 years ago plays out in my mind. I was at a meeting crowded with social workers and case managers. From the back of the room a voice called out, “Can anyone tell me the five stages of grief?” It seemed an out-of-place question for a meeting convened to discuss the new laptop computer-based case management system. For the past 40 minutes these social workers had resisted and questioned the system. It intruded on their relationships with clients; it slowed them down; it wasn’t necessary. “We don’t have to do this!” “It won’t work because …” “It won’t work unless …” “It will never work!”

And then, this bizarre question from the back of the room. Of course, in a room full of social workers, everyone knew Kübler Ross’s five stage model of grief. One person after another answered the question, calling it out one stage at a time. “Denial.” “Anger.” “Bargaining.” “Depression.” “Acceptance.”

The voice from the back of the room spoke again. “What stage are you in now?”

The pertinence of the question became apparent. There was a long pause as the social workers recognized they were grieving their old ways of working. They were in denial. They were angry. They were bargaining. They were depressed.

The pause continued awkwardly until one of them said, “OK, how can we make this work.”



From my work with computer viruses, I knew something about how they spread so, for this pandemic, I fast-forwarded right past denial, anger, and bargaining and went straight to depression. As I stay at home day after day, distance myself from others when I do go out, monitor every doorknob, steering wheel, and can of beans I touch and wipe them down afterwards and wash my hands, I hold depression at bay and lean to acceptance. I accept this new normal. This is it.


An old Jewish story comes to mind. My retelling draws on a version by Doug Lipman.

Two students are studying the psalms and they come to the line, “This is the day God has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24.) They are troubled by it, so they ask their rabbi, “On a day when everything is good, it is easy to say this line with a full heart. But, how can we say it with genuine intent on a bad day?”

“A good question,” says their rabbi. “For this question, “you should visit Reb Zushya.”

To find Reb Zushya the students must travel, by foot, to a distant village. On the third day of their journey they arrive in the heart of the village. They ask, “Can you tell us where we can find Reb Zushya?”

“Sorry, we don’t know anyone by that name.”

They knock on many doors, receiving the same response. They continue to inquire further and further from the center of the village; they begin to despair. Finally, someone responds, “I recall a man who used to be known by that name. He lives some distance from here.”

The students follow the villager’s directions and proceed down a narrow street, which turns into a dirt road, which turns into an overgrown footpath. They see a small building ahead – a shack, a hut. As they approach, they notice a window covered with cardboard, the roof missing some shingles, the outer door hanging askew from its upper hinge. They knock at the door. A voice from within whispers, “I’ll be with you soon.”

In time, a man opens the door from within and asks, “What can I do for you, my sons?”

“Our rabbi sent us here to ask a question. Are you Reb Zushya?”

“Yes, I am. Welcome, come in, but please be quiet. My wife is very ill, and she has just gone to sleep.” He pointed to a blanket drawn across the opposite corner of the small room. He waved in the students and pulled up two wooden boxes so they could sit at his wobbly table, filled three wooden cups with water, and broke his remaining bread in three pieces. When they each had something to drink and eat, he asked, “So, what is this question you have come here to ask?”

One of the students explained, “We were studying the psalms and came to the line, ‘This is the day God has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.’ We were troubled by it, so we asked our rabbi. ‘It is easy to say this line with a full heart on a good day, but how can we really mean it on a bad day?’ Our rabbi told us, ‘This is a question you should ask Reb Zushya.’ So, here we are.”

Puzzled, Reb Zushya looked at one student and then the other and then leaned back a bit. Shaking his head slowly, he replied, “I don’t know why your rabbi sent you to ask me this question, I have never had a bad day!”


This virus – like ones before it and ones that will follow – is no laughing matter. But, in the spirit of hunkering up:
  • Two buddies walk into a bar. The bartender says, “What’ll you have?” The first one says, “I’ll have a Corona.” The second says, “I’ll have what he’s having.”
  • Scientists have observed a number of similarities among the various virus outbreaks and have demonstrated that the viruses are copying from each other. It’s a clear‑cut case of plague‑arism.* 
  • Did you hear the joke about the virus? Never mind, you probably won’t get it.*
  • Jewish irony: Passover curtailed because of a plague.*
  • Many of my fellow storytellers and musicians have announced cancellations of their performances. Without minimizing their difficulties, I would like to announce I will not be performing at Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, or Madison Square Garden.
* Shamelessly adapted from the Internet.


My title plays on Richard Fariña‘s 1966 book, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me. In closing, I refer to Jack Kerouac‘s 1962 novel, Big Sur. It’s a fictionalized autobiography in which the main character deteriorates, physically and mentally, in what seem to be irretrievable downhill slides. Then, as the book concludes, comes an artful turnaround. Redemption is not out of reach. Kerouac writes what we hope for.

“Something good will come out of all things yet.”