Russ Franzen Great Lakes History in Song


Russ Franzen
Russ Franzen


Elizabeth Whitney Williams was the lighthouse keeper at Beaver Island and Little Traverse in the 1800's. Her experiences inspired this song, written for the Middle Island Lighthouse's key transfer ceremony a couple of years ago.

Russ Franzen
Russ Franzen


The Edmund Fitzgerald was a legend on the Great Lakes for many years. It is that story I want to tell. Gordon Lightfoot can tell the ending. This song is about the maiden season of that great boat.

Russ Franzen
Russ Franzen
Russ Franzen
Russ Franzen
Russ Franzen
Russ Franzen


The old boats on the Miami and Erie Canal were powered by mules and steered by a tiller/rudder. The Steersman would straddle the big tiller and use his legs to steer it. It was not only easier physically, but standing allowed him to see the canal better. Our lead interpreter at Providence Metropark, when working as Steersman, often says he's "going to dance with the tiller." Lines like that are too good to waste.


Dance With the Tiller

© 2016 by Russ Franzen


It was just after supper and the passengers danced

On top of the boat they were swayin'.

But the fiddle and squeezebox and dancing all stopped

When the low bridge horn started blowin'

The mules started pulling us out of the lock.

We were headed South to Picqua.

I just started my watch for the overnight shift

Steering the boat with its big, black tiller.


Chorus: The soft swishing of the water as the bow cuts through

I hear the passengers snoring as the old boat moves on.

We hear the mules clomping by the light of the moon

And I'll dance with the tiller til dawn.


In the day light the locks were alive

With farmers selling produce and townsfolk swapping news

But at night it's near empty. All the folks have gone home

With just the lockmaster locking us through.

We were guided from the bow by the lantern's light

As we glided through Ohio in the dark of the night

And I think of my sweetheart waiting back home

As I dance with the tiller til dawn.

Russ Franzen
Russ Franzen
Russ Franzen
Russ Franzen


The Miami and Erie Canal went from Toledo to Cincinnati, connecting the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. Now, the Providence Lock is the only original working lock in Ohio and folks can ride through it on a replica canal boat in Providence Metropark (Metroparks of the Toledo Area). This song tells of the canal's history.

Russ Franzen
Russ Franzen

Shipwreck Songs

by Russ Franzen

These are a few of my shipwreck songs.
Russ Franzen


In the August 2011 edition of The Great Lakes Pilot, I read the story of the 1977 Pet Rock Revolt in Grand Marais, Michigan. If you can get a copy of the Pilot and read the story, it's a stitch. Otherwise, here's the (forgive me) "Readers Digest" version.

Russ Franzen
Russ Franzen


In 1837, Anna Jameson, an author from England who married a Canadian politician, took a trip on the Great Lakes. This is the story of one of her adventures.

Baseball Songs

by Russ Franzen

Baseball is an important part of life along the Great Lakes. It also happens to be my favorite sport. All of these songs are in the permanent collection of the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum.
  • 04:20 Download Story Lyrics The Indians Great Season

      The Indians Great Season

       (c) 2009 by Russ Franzen

    Hello, Baseball fans everywhere, Let me tell you of a chase

    by a baseball team on Lake Erie's shore in a four-way pennant race.

    A 20-to-one longshot to make it to the top,

    It was a crazy year but the Indians were not about to stop.

    1)  Bob Feller took the mound on the season's opening day.

         Like every team, the Indians thought they could go all the way.

         When the season hit July, on the top they tried to stay.

         They were fighting for the top spot with the Yanks, Red Sox, and A's.

         Then Bill Veeck opened his bag of tricks. He looked like quite a sage

         when he signed an aging pitcher by the name of Satchel Paige.

         He had a wind-up like a windmill, he kicked his foot up to his face,

         He pitched over, under, and sidearm and kept the batters dazed.

    chorus:   Another win for the Indians, No one's looking back.

                 Somebody might be gaining, just like old Satchel said.

                 Folks gathered 'round the radio, they filled the stadium by the Lake.

                 No, Cleveland ain't seen nothing like the team in '48.

    2)  Gene Bearden threw the knuckler and won 20 games that year.

         Old Satchel's Hesitation Pitch had batters swingin' at air.

         Bob Feller and Bob Lemon threw nothin' but heat.

         Those great Indians pitchers sure were hard to beat.

         The shortstop, Lou Boudreau, it was his team to steer.

         He managed the team and hit .355 in his MVP year.

         Gordon, Keltner and Doby hit the baseball into space

         And kept the '48 Indians in that crazy pennant race.

    3)  There were fireworks over the stadium that the fans loved to see,

         Good Old Joe Eady had his Day and every fan was king.

         Rapid Robert threw from the mountaintop, there was a custom infield, too,

         And signs stolen from the scoreboard, courtesy of the ground crew.

         The '48 team had four All-Stars, Six made the Hall of Fame

         But everyone contributed, depending on the game.

         In the playoff with the Red Sox, Bearden pitched just like an Ace

         And Keltner and Looie homered to win the pennant race.


         In the series, facing Spahn and Sain and the rest of the Boston Braves,

         The Indians were the stronger team. The fans came out in waves.

         The pitchers were overpowering, the batters took their licks,

         And the Indians were world champions, they won it all in six.

  • 03:59 Download Story The Park at the Corner
  • 03:39 Download Story Tiger Stadium's Lament
  • 02:58 Download Story A Team All Our Own (Baseball in Toledo)
  • 03:24 Download Story The Ballpark of my Youth
Russ Franzen





The lighthouse stands alone on Superior's shore
        The lifesavers are now part of Great Lakes lore.
        Out on lonely Crisp Point, the sun sets for the day
        On the light that once led ships to Whitefish Bay.

Russ Franzen


On the way home from church one night, we saw an EJ&E engine on a side track. We found out later that it was my grandfather's engine and he was eating his dinner on his last day before retirement. He was an interesting man and I wish I'd gotten to know him better.

Russ Franzen
Russ Franzen