...During ten or fifteen years I had been, as it were, dragging a heavy chain which no strength of mine could break; I was not only a slave, but a slave for life. I might become a husband, a father, an aged man, but through all, from birth to death, from the cradle to the grave, I had felt myself doomed. All efforts I had previously made to secure my freedom had not only failed, but had seemed only to rivet my fetters the more firmly, and to render my escape more difficult. Baffled, entangled, and discouraged, I had at times asked myself the question, May not my condition after all be God's work, and ordered for a wise purpose, and if so, Is not submission my duty? A contest had in fact been going on in my mind for a long time, between the clear consciousness of right and the plausible make-shifts of theology and superstition. The one held me an abject slave--a prisoner for life, punished for some transgression in which I had no lot nor part; and the other counseled me to manly endeavor to secure my freedom. This contest was now ended; my chains were broken, and the victory brought me unspeakable joy.In a small, very well landscaped, park near the Lake Erie shore in Sandusky, Ohio there is a wonderful sculpture. It is avant-gard in material, and philosophy; but is done with genuine talent. It is a well conceived historical monument. It delivers an important narrative, and is surrounded with short stone stanchions with foto etched tablets and script atop.
But my gladness was short-lived, for I was not yet out of the reach and power of the slave-holders. I soon found that New York was not quite so free or so safe a refuge as I had supposed, and a sense of loneliness and insecurity again oppressed me most sadly. ...
—Frederick Douglass. My Escape from Slavery. 1881
It is concerned with the Underground Railroad. Josiah Henson's autobiography was published in 1849. He, and his family, escaped slavery in Kentucky, and went north to Sandusky in 1830. By lake vessel he made Buffalo, and across the Niagara to freedom. Harriet Beecher Stowe takes his story into her novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. Henson would return through Sandusky to help others escape slavery. Sandusky was a gate to freedom in her novel.
People to quickly want to forget, or acknowledge that slavery existed in the United States. Even in the 'free states' an ex-slave could be captured and returned to slavery. This was formalised by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Those who helped runaways were also susceptible to legal punishment. Ontario (Upper Province of Canada) was free from slavery in 1793, and would not not return slaves. Leaving the United States for Canada was a journey of freedom.
The sculpture uses 800' of chain. Its links are welded together to form the bodies. There is an invisible vertical plane (as in science fiction) that is being crossed (or entered) by the male figure. Beyond the crossing, the man's face, an arm and a knee are solid and smooth of bronze, and not iron chain.