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How U.S. Congressman Isaac M. Jordan got the shaft

This month, NYU Press publishes Lifted: A Cultural History of the Elevator. This scholarly work celebrates the emergence of an invention we all take for granted. Lifted put us in mind of a little-known mishap from more than a century ago. In 1890, the Queen City was the site of American history’s only death-by-elevator of a U.S. Congressman.

Isaac M. Jordan went to college at Miami University, where he cofounded the Sigma Chi fraternity. (That M. didn’t stand for anything.) After college he began a law partnership with the Honorable Flamen Ball, who had been a partner with Salmon P. Chase prior to Chase joining Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet. Departing his downtown office in the Lincoln Inn Court building one day, Jordan was waiting for the elevator when a friend distracted him. The door opened, and while the two chums talked in the hallway the elevator continued up—but the door remained partially open, and in one fluid swivel the congressman stepped into the shaft.

“Probably no other man’s death would have caused more general sorrow and regrets throughout the city,” lamented the Enquirer. “It was regarded as a public calamity—a great and irreparable loss to the community.”

Jordan was buried at Spring Grove Cemetery. Think of him the next time you ponder squeezing through a rapidly closing elevator door.

Originally published in the February 2014 issue.