I Shouldn’t Be Alive: Thirty Minutes in a Federal Hall Elevator

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by Jack Purcell

The following is a timeline of the darkest moment of my life. On Friday, March 22, 2019, four of my dearest acquaintances and I found ourselves trapped in the elevator of  Federal Hall. Dante. Dario. Alex. Justin. And me, Jack. We survived against all odds. This is our story:

6:05 pm: We were happy. We were laughing. We were free. As my friends and I skipped merrily through the fourth floor of Federal Hall on our way to consume some delicious and nutritious food from the Terrace Dining Room at the American University, life was good.

6:07 pm: We enter the elevator. “Floor one, please,” Dario says, an excellently crafted joke because we all knew exactly where we were going. The elevator doors closed. The elevator itself moved. The elevator shuddered. Then nothing. We had stopped.


6:08 pm: The buttons were dark. The doors were shut. The elevator simply refused to de-elevate. We realized we were stuck.

6:09 pm: The gravity of our situation began to set in. We pressed the red button, and the voice of God spoke to us. “How many of you are there?” she asked. “Five,” we breathed hopelessly. “Ok. Public Safety is on their way,” the Voice responded. Who could this “Public Safety” be? Angels of the Lord chosen to save us sinners from our fate?

6:11 pm: Our psyches began to shatter. Dante cried. Justin cried. Alex cried. We all cried. We knew not when help would arrive, and we were all horrifically aware that we were a broken cable and a thirty-foot fall away from every bone in our body shattering, our once supple figures being reduced to a paste on the Terrace Level of Federal Hall.

6:17 pm: Contact! The being named “Public Safety” shouted to us from beyond, asking again how many of us were trapped and whether we were injured. For the time being, those answers were “Five” and “No.” We were informed that the fire department was on their way to crack open the stainless steel walnut that was suffocating us.

6:22 pm. Not a word from the outside had been uttered since Public Safety left us back in the box. Our mental state continually spirals downward, and everything that left our lips now had devolved into the lyrics of cheesy hit songs from various eras of human history. As we performed our own rendition of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by The Tokens, our only company remained the tiny red light, its bloody glow telling us that our call was received.

6:29 pm: Five of us sat along the perimeter of the elevator, unsure of ourselves, unsure of each other, unsure of the circumstances that had brought us face to face with the yawning void of eternity. Who were we to try to play God? We mortals, who decided to spit in the face of gravity, to create a machine intended to mock the laws of physics by moving up and down at will, finally had to pay for our hubris.

6:33 pm: We began to come to terms with our situation. As time continued, we channeled the evolutionary memory of what our ancestors first did millennia ago: we created a society. In the face of total anarchy, we created our own rules on where to sit, which corner to use as a bathroom, and how exactly we were to survive in this hellish place.

6:34 pm: Hunger. It had been entire hours since some of us had eaten. We prepared to draw lots as to who would be the first to be eaten. Dante would be the first to sustain us.

6:35 pm: Sound! Metal on metal, screeching, light. There, silhouetted against the setting of the burning ball of gas that we could barely remember was a being that appeared to have come from the light enveloping him, reaching out a gloved hand to lift us up the three feet between our prison and salvation. As we lifted our legs over the guts of the building that had trapped us like caged rats, we blinked the tears from our eyes and moved towards the staircase, to the TDR, to freedom. We were alive.


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