Toronto documentary crew 'very fortunate' for history archives in Norwalk

Cary Ashby • Jul 15, 2019 at 7:00 PM

The Laning-Young Research Center in Norwalk provided a vital bit of research for a Canadian-based television documentary crew.

Associated Producers Ltd., a film company from Toronto, is making a six-part documentary series on the slave trade, from Africa to South America to North America. “Enslaved” will be broadcast in the United States on Epix and also on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

“It was scheduled for February 2020,” producer Felix Golubev said. “We are looking for slave boats that sank. The backbone of our documentary series are shipwrecks — slavery ships that didn’t make it.” 

Two boats — The Home and Niagara — will be featured in the series. One originated in the Sandusky area.

“Strangely enough, both boats sank in Lake Michigan, closer to Chicago and close to Milawaukee. A week ago, we were diving and we filmed underwater — 50 meters down — a full boat. The hull is totally intact,” Golubev said.

“They were smuggling slaves from Sandusky to Buffalo and then to Canada eventually.”

About three weeks ago, an Associated Producers crew was at the Laning-Young Research Center to do some preliminary research about slavery and the Underground Railroad in the area. Chris Harlan, who is a volunteer and associate curator, and librarian Mary Carabin met with them.

“They had information on The Pioneer Magazine,” Harlan said.

The magazine was a longtime publication by the Firelands Historical Society containing history, genealogy and biographies.

“I personally think The Pioneer Magazine, when they first started that about the 1860s, it was a brilliant idea. Because some of those early Pioneers were the recollections of the early settlers of the Firelands,” said volunteer John Elmlinger, who was the treasurer for 33 years.

Carabin provided the producers with information on Sandusky lawyer and Underground Railroad participant Rush Richard Sloane.

“Mary is the librarian who did all the work. … Mary gave them a lot of good information,” Harlan said. “Mary did her part, giving them information I don’t think they had.”

Born in Sandusky in 1828, Sloane reportedly was the first person in the area to be charged as a criminal for being an abolitionist. He became an Erie County probate judge in 1855 and was elected the mayor of Sandusky in 1879.

The documentary crew was tracking down information on a wrecked boat called The Home owned by an abolitionist named Capt. James Nugent. About three weeks ago, they spent about an hour at the Laning-Young Research Center and then visited the Firelands Historical Society and Norwalk Public Library.

The crew returned to the research center last week to do some filming. Golubev was there with executive producer and director Simcha Jacobovici and Underground Railroad historian Yvette Darden, of Sandusky.

“We are very fortunate to find this Firelands Historical Society Museum archives,” Golubev said. “We are going to be filming inside the library and the gentleman taking the book out of the shelf.”

Darden was filmed as part of an interview, presenting the research.

“She has the smoking gun; here is the evidence … that Sloane was involved in the conspiracy and Nugent was the captain of the small ship,” Golubev said. “Also there were headhunters; there were people from the South (who) were here trying to capture the runaways.”

Also featured in the series will be Nugent and Sloane.

“Mr. Nugent owned this boat called The Home and he didn’t want anybody to know or reveal he was smuggling fugitives to Canada, but he asked Rush Sloane, who was the judge, not to reveal those secrets until he was dead,” Golubev said.

Sloane, after Nugent’s death, testified in a criminal case about smuggling slaves. During his testimony, it was revealed that Nugent was an abolitionist who aided in smuggling slaves to Canada.

“He (Sloane) was fined. … There was a fine of $3,000,” Golubev said. “That publication here (in Norwalk) is a testimony of Rush Sloane.”

Research the crew needed about the Underground Railroad brought them to Norwalk. Despite the slaves sinking with one of the ships, Golubev said the documentary is “a happy story” — one about survival.

It’s possible the “Enslaved” documentary could inspire people to come to the Laning-Young Research Center for their own research.

“Absolutely it’s good publicity. At the end of the show, they’re going to say part of the video was shot at the Firelands Museum (in) Norwalk, Ohio, so the publicity is going to be really good for us,” Harlan said.

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