The Secret World of KU Elevators

Henry Basil | @panchenbasil

KU’s campus has over 30 elevators. Some are used very frequently, like those in residence halls and the union, and some seem to be used only a few times a month. Some elevators can be very old, dating back to what looks like the 1940s— like the Montgomery elevator in Wescoe Hall. Montgomery made the elevators in the gateway arch and hasn’t made any more elevators since the 90s. 

Some elevators are small and holding onto just enough parts to get the job done, like the sometimes terrifying elevator in Fraser Hall. The Fraser hall elevator has a weight capacity of only 2000 lbs, and it shakes violently up to the 7th floor. Maybe this one is on its last legs. Although 2000lbs is small compared to the rest of campus, some elevators have no weight rating, and the one in Summerfield Hall is only rated for 1500 pounds! That could only hold one dairy cow, assuming the cow could fit in such a small space. 

Some elevators on campus are quite nice and well maintained; in fact, I would say the elevator in the Robinson Center represents the most KU of all elevators, as it sits firmly in the middle class of elevators along with those in the dorms… Carpeted floors, a couple of scratches on the wood-paneled walls, and about the size for 3 people to fit comfortably. 

The most lavish elevator on campus? That would be in the Capitol Federal building. A Schindler elevator, = the walls are made of some kind of metal you would make a watch band out of, and an LED-backlit, black marble ceiling. 

Elevators on campus are not devoid of their oddities, like the elevator in Lindley Hall, which has some fading yellow particleboard and an exposed mechanism to open and close the door, reminiscent of a turn of the century elevator I rode in San Francisco. Or the mini security camera in the Oswald elevator. 

Some other oddities include the 8000-pound capacity elevator in Learned Hall (big surprise coming from an engineering building) which means it can carry 2 Toyota Camrys, and I think they might be able to fit. The elevator in Budig Hall has a big wooden door you have to open before you open the elevator door. 

An important element of any elevator is the floor selection panel, and while some elevators’ panels stay consistent with the aesthetic of the rest of the elevator, many have strange deviations, like the glowing obelisk at the top of the KONE panel in Slawson Hall, or how the elevator in Budig has a 70s display and a control panel from the 90s. 

The most interesting displays to me were the Dover displays, present in a lot of the older elevators and in the union garage elevator, the display reminds me a lot of the 80s calculator I bought from Etsy. The buttons on these panels also had a lot of variety, though I would say my favorites are the circular metal buttons with a light in the center.

Another world of elevator oddities comes from the sounds produced by many of the elevators. As the host of Weird World on KJHK, I am often attracted to the nature of ambient sounds. One of the strangest sound anomalies in these elevators was the one in Blake Hall, which sounded like a human voice as it traveled up to the 6th floor. The elevator in the Center for European Studies sounds like a basement heater, the elevator in the Dole Human Development Center sounds like rain gutters, and the Eaton Hall elevator has an ascending bell sound. The one in Capitol Federal makes robot noises. 

The most terrifying sound came from the Snow Hall elevator, which combined with the green marble walls, made the whole experience very ominous. Some buildings at KU are pretty old, and likewise, many of the elevators have developed interesting and nostalgic aromas. 

The elevator in Haworth smells like medical chemicals, the one in Marvin smells like old cheese, and the Stouffer elevators smell like freshly applied deodorant. Oddly enough, the elevator in Summerfield smells like summer camp. Each elevator brings its own personality to the table, reminiscent of the building it occupies and people that have traveled in it over the years. 

Of course, if you travel in only a few elevators a day, you don’t notice this, you are actively participating in what makes these elevators unique. I only gleaned this information by taking a day to pay careful attention to every elevator. And I know that might seem kind of odd, but I think something can be gained by setting aside time to understand the beauty of where you are. 

Many generations of people are drawn to this idea of nostalgia, especially aesthetic nostalgia, and oftentimes, it’s a lot easier to look back at old pictures and appreciate the beauty of simple things like cars, fashion trends, or elevators. But we also have to realize that the same beauty is not exclusive to old pictures, but to our daily lives, as long as we take the time to step back and appreciate what we have. And realize that what we have today is not what will be around tomorrow. In the (much prettier) words of the musician Florist:

“It’s a beautiful thing

That I keep close to me

And I won’t forget

Nothing is mine to keep”

KJHK 90.7 FM