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The Terrifying Tale of Albert Deal’s 120-Foot Elevator Shaft Fall

This is the incredible story of Albert Deal, a Pennsylvania steamfitter who fell 120 feet down an elevator shaft at the Cairo Flats in 1894. Miraculously, he survived with only a sprained back! Find out the story behind this amazing tale.
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The Cairo Building
The Cairo Building

This is a worthy story for a “From the Crazy Vault” post … check it out. I came across the tale in the Washington Times from October 7th, 1894.

Falling down an elevator shaft from the eleventh story of a building is not an everyday event. Ordinarily, when it happens to a man, the subsequent proceedings interest him no more.

Albert Deal, however, enjoys the distinction of being an exception to the rule; that is, if there can be anything enjoyable about the affair beyond the fact that he lives to tell the tale. He was precipitated from the top to the bottom, 120 feet, of the elevator shaft at the Cairo Flats, on Q street, between Sixteenth and Seventeenth, yesterday afternoon, and by nothing short of a miracle escaped with apparently no worse injuries than a badly sprained back and several slight bruises.

Albert Deal was a 28 years old and Pennsylvania steamfitter down in D.C. He was working on the final phases of the Cairo Flats building being built by T. F. Schneider.

“Precipitated from top to the bottom.” Wow, I can’t imagine how terrifying this fall must have been. The story continues …

It was just after the lunch hour. Deal had taken two heavy radiators up to the eleventh story. When the elevator was lowered again it stopped about midway of the shaft. After it had been fixed and let down to the basement, Deal called out to John Martin that he was coming down the rope to find out what was the matter with the cogs. Martin gave the word to the engineer, and the latter replied, “all right.”

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Deal started on his descent. No sooner had he swung himself out into the shaft than the rope began to slip from the drum, and the horrified man shot down like a flash. Somebody had been terribly careless.

There was not an outcry from Deal. Nor did his presence of mind forsake him. To let go of the rope meant certain death. In holding lay his only chance for life. With grim determination he held on. What thoughts passed through his mind as he shot through space with fearful rapidity, he himself will probably not be able to tell.

Wow, really? Okay boys, I’m heading down to the basement and I will slide down on this 120 foot rope dangling down the elevator shaft. Is that OSHA compliant?

view down an elevator shaft
view down an elevator shaft

Faster and ever faster revolved the drum, quicker an even quicker became the descent. Deal held on to the rope, and also managed to maintain an upright position, thus saving himself from contact with the huge protruding beams in the shaft.

At last the basement was reached and with a plunge Deal was dashed upon the platform. Then consciousness left him.

Immediately the Emergency Hospital ambulance was summoned and Deal conveyed to his home, No. 1141 Nineteenth street northwest, where Dr. Weaver rendered assistance and restored him to consciousness. Upon examination it was found, as already stated, that Deal had suffered no more serious injuries than a badly sprained back, and his physician thinks that his patient may be about again in a few days.

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Unbelievable … first that he survives at all, but second that he basically just sprains his back and will be sore for several days. Oh, not to mention the slightly different 19th century medical practice of taking the patient to his home to await the doctor. Sh*t, I’ve been hit by a Metrobus … quick, take me home to my futon and tell the doctor to swing by ASAP.

There has been trouble with the elevator ever since it was put in place. The workmen about the flats have been always doubtful of its stability. Yesterday morning it was noticed to run badly and only the safety notches prevented it from failing. Twice Deal had to climb out to fix it, and at last his impatience over the ever-recurring obstructions caused him to attempt what might have cost him his lift.

In true litigious American style, Deal sued the developer, T. F. Schneider, for $25,000 due to negligence. The lawsuit claimed that the accident was caused by carelessness and lack of safety promotion on the work site by Schneider. Deal also stated that he had $300 in medical bills (a lot of money then) and that he was no longer able to earn a livelihood as a steamfitter.

The court found that Deal was the sole individual responsible for the accident since he alone decided to swing out on the rope to investigate the cause of the elevator troubles.

How’s the elevator in the Cairo running these days?

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Enjoy daily

Ghosts of DC stories.