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Now, everyone knows that the canal was a twenty-four hour a day, seven days a week operation, that did not stop for such petty things like fog. Heck that is partly the reason for those great lanterns and steadfast boys driving teams of horses and mules along the slop of towpaths. There were however, times when the fog was so thick the boys and their trusty companions were lost to the steersman and captains.
Many of these boys recalled to each other in the company stalls of what they saw in that fog. Often the boys would be nursing bruises from when they conveyed what they had witnessed to company hands. Being roughed up seemed like a sure fire way to get the boys to forget those ghost barges they’d pass in the fog. Now, there aren’t too many primary accounts regarding these spectral ships, for it was difficult enough for young boys and deck hands to find the time to record their days on the canal let alone detail such hog-dashery as ghost barges.
Most often the sightings would be of a lone lamp light on the canal, and as the boys trotted alongside their teams – coming closer and closer, they did not hear the usual sounds of canal transport. There were no extra throp trop of hooves on the path, the creaky whine of the boat in the water, nor voices of crew calling into the heavy air. Many times as the shape of the barge began to show itself in the denseness of the fog, the boys swore that it would wisp away like the fog itself.
Old rough canal men would berate the boys at mentions of the ghost barges, telling them to mind their teams and not drift themselves into the tedium of the work, for “the devil will make play things” of them.
But occasionally they would find an old sympathetic ear among the canal store tavern patrons. It didn’t seem strange to them that some of the most spectacular of these recounts happened in the part of the Mohawk Valley that saw the most horrific scenes of brutality. They would conjecture the barges were more likely the rafts of Charon crossing the river Styx and carrying the untold souls of pioneer settlers, soldiers and other wayward travelers.