"Grandpa at the Wheelhouse," early 1940s. John "Toot Toot" Graham, photo (c) Robert Graham, used with permission.
On Bob Graham's first Erie Canal boat ride in 1958, from Fairport to Macedon, he wore a pair of red-framed sunglasses that had a silver cowboy six-shooter in each corner, and he says now what he most remembers is "the wind in my face." There's a photo documenting that four-year-old's sunny day aboard a regular motor boat in his exhibition, "Three Generations on the Canal," opening this Friday with a reception from 5:00-8:00 PM at the Canal Museum, 318 Erie Blvd. East, Syracuse. For entertainment, the reception features old canal songs performed by the Ilion-based band, Yesterday's News. Bob Graham crossed paths with the band during his own Canal travels and arranged their Syracuse gig. The reception will also feature Genesee beer, a Graham family favorite, along with the more conventional reception fare of wine and cheese.
Earlier on Friday, according to the plan, Bob and his wife Leslie, along with his father, John "Red" Graham, Jr., and his mother Eve, will arrive by a boat rented from Mid-Lakes Navigation in Baldwinsville, having spent the week progressing at a stately pace from Rochester to Seneca Falls, Frontenac Island, Oswego, and Cleveland after a Memorial Day departure. They have a space reserved in the gallery for a photo of their arrival in Baldwinsville.
Their means of travel has roots in the very beginning of the country. The Erie Canal itself was first built in the years 1817-25 -- four feet deep and 40 feet wide at the top, originally 363 miles between Albany and Buffalo, with 83 locks and more than 300 bridges. It lowered the cost of transporting good by 80-90 percent. It was enlarged in the years 1836-62 to accommodate some steam vessels, and enlarged again in the years 1905-18. But George Washington first proposed that navigation could be improved by dredging the Mohawk River, and in 1792 the first canal and lock system in the US was built to by-pass the rapids at Little Falls.