A series of metal plates covers one of the four interior walls of the Elevator Historical Society’s newly opened museum in Long Island City. Placed in the center of the leftmost panel is founder and curator Patrick Carrajat’s first acquisition, a small silver cover for an elevator interlock taken from a pile of material set to be discarded after he had helped out his father, an elevator mechanic, on a job in 1955.
“I took that home that day,” he said pointing at the wall. “Sat there polishing it with Noxon until it got nicely cleaned up. And that was the beginning of a lifelong, some people call it, obsession. I don’t, I don’t think it’s an obsession. I think it’s just a great love and respect for the history of the industry that’s made me a wonderful living for 50 years.”
Hidden in an office space in the yellow and black Taxi Building on the corner of 44th Avenue and 21st Street in Long Island City — a place Carrajat calls “elevator central” — the museum is shockingly small. A sole room is filled with approximately 2,000 pieces of elevator paraphernalia, mostly from Carrajat’s personal collection. There are manuals, mechanical parts, and relics of elevators’ cameos in pop culture: a copy of Mad magazine, cartoon cels, a signed picture of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in an elevator from Titanic, and a NSFW poster for Aerosmith’s “Love in an Elevator.” There was also a life-sized model of a grazing horse in the center of the room, which is usually not part of the exhibit — it does belong to Carrajat, however, and had emerged from its place behind the back wall.
The cramped quarters are just for now, Carrajat said, sitting on the back of a red couch decorated with mannequins wearing Otis and Montgomery mechanics’ uniforms. He hopes in two or three years’ time to move into a 5,000-square-foot space with 15- to 18-foot ceilings, in order to display real-life elevators. As he speaks, a Louis Malle film prominently featuring an elevator plays silently on a widescreen television behind him. The fear of elevators is a micro-theme among the knickknacks. Carrajat later informs us, as we look at an illustration depicting the Angel of Death dancing over a full car of passengers, cutting the rope, that you are more likely to fall up in an elevator than down in one.
Carrajat has been in the elevator industry for 50 years, working various jobs including starting both Century Elevator and Certified Elevator Products. He retired from the latter in 2008. He serves as an expert witness for elevator accident trials and wrote a book about the history of the industry.
Mechanics working for Carrajat used to bring him parts for his collection, and he purchased items in the early days of eBay, he explained. He got the idea to start a museum about three or four years ago, but planned to put it into action last year when he was living in Fort Myers, Florida.
“I said, ‘You know something, this is not the place to have an elevator museum,'” he said, adding that luckily his wife hated Fort Myers, and they moved back to New York.
Carrajat’s friend Fergal O’Halloran helped him construct the location, building it so it would resemble the inside of an elevator car. Soon, he told us, they will cover the ceiling so the image is complete, and “It will actually be like being inside an elevator,” he explained.
Opened on a table was an original order book from Otis Elevator in 1871, written in the elegant cursive of Norton Otis. It includes plans for an elevator in the Brooklyn Macy’s. Leading us to a side wall, Carrajat took out and demonstrated how an Angell lock was used to grip the rope in early elevators. Tucked in a corner on a high shelf were wood cased annunciators, which, Carrajat explained, were how the operator would know the floor. We asked Carrajat what his favorite item was — specifying that it had to be other than his first — and he led us to a silver, circular item encased in a wood box used to measure steam pressure.
“This is extremely rare,” he said. “This is actually when elevator doors were operated by steam pressure. Steam pressure only lasted a handful of years. This is dated 1901 from San Francisco.”
How does it still exist?
“Elevator guys are pack rats,” he said.
Admission to the museum is free, but Carrajat asks that visitors call ahead of time to make an appointment.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 12, 2011