Saturday, February 20, 2010

Articles to Read When Trapped In an Elevator

I was trapped, alone, in an elevator today. It wasn't for long: ten to fifteen minutes at most. While trying to deep-breathe my way through near panic, all I could think about was Nick Paumgarten's wonderful New Yorker article "Up and Then Down", about the history of elevators in general and Nicholas White, a man who was trapped in an elevator for 41 hours, in particular. (I have never denied being a complete dork.)

Here's a terrifying, and representative, snippet:
Still, elevator lore has its share of horrors: strandings, manglings, fires, drownings, decapitations. An estimated two hundred people were killed in elevators at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001—some probably in free-fall plunges, but many by fire, smoke, or entrapment and subsequent structural collapse. The elevator industry likes to insist that, short of airplane rammings, most accidents are the result of human error, of passengers or workers doing things they should not. Trying to run in through closing doors is asking for trouble; so is climbing up into an elevator car, or down out of one, when it is stuck between floors, or letting a piece of equipment get lodged in the brake, as happened to a service elevator at 5 Times Square, in Manhattan, four years ago, causing the counterweight to plummet (the counterweight, which aids an elevator’s rise and slows its descent, is typically forty per cent heavier than an empty car) and the elevator to shoot up, at sixty miles an hour, into the beams at the top of the shaft, killing the attendant inside. Loading up an empty elevator car with discarded Christmas trees, pressing the button for the top floor, then throwing in a match, so that by the time the car reaches the top it is ablaze with heat so intense that the alloy (called “babbitt”) connecting the cables to the car melts, and the car, a fireball now, plunges into the pit: this practice, apparently popular in New York City housing projects, is inadvisable.