Local News
6:00 am
Mon February 4, 2013

What's In An Elevator? 6th-Grader's Reviews A YouTube Hit

Have you ever stopped to notice the different sounds an elevator makes? What the buttons look and feel like? Or where the emergency phone is?

Well, it turns out there’s a community of people on the internet who point out all those details in videos.

One of those elevator filmers is a 12 year old 6th grader from Charlotte, T.J. Burns. He says he’s always been fascinated by elevators. But his interest really took off a few years ago when his physical therapist used it for motivation. He says she would tell him, "if you do a good job, we’ll go ride the elevator."

T.J. has mild cerebral palsy; his parents say the elevator worked so well as an incentive that he hasn’t had to have formal physical therapy in 5 years. But he has been riding in elevators – hundreds of them – and posting videos of them to YouTube, and he’s gotten quite a following.

Duncan McFadyen recently met up with TJ — where else? — at the elevators outside of the WFAE studios in University City.

BURNS: Well, I normally look at the fixtures, the floor indicators. See, I normally can look at the fixtures and see what kind it is. This one, I could probably tell by the fixtures, but you see it says “Southern Elevator,” too. But I could probably tell by the fixtures, too, because I’m pretty good with my fixtures.

MCFADYEN: One thing I’ve noticed about these elevators is that the sound---it sounds like it’s a real bell ringing, not like a computerized beep-sound . Is that one of the things about Southern Elevators that makes them kind of unique.

BURNS: Yes. You know, Otis and Dover, those just have kind of a computerized beep sound, whereas this one, it actually sounds more like real bell ringing. So, that is pretty cool about Southerns.

12 year old T.J. Burns calls the elevator outside of the WFAE studios.
Credit Duncan McFadyen

MCFADYEN: And when you meet TJ, it’s not hard to see his excitement about elevators. He pushes the call button over and over in anticipation of it arriving, and he claps his hands when the bells ding and the doors open. When he looks around at the fixtures, you sense that he’s taking in every detail. And tapping into this fascination with something many of us take for granted most of the time has struck a chord with people on YouTube. TJ has almost 1,300 followers and…

MCFADYEN: Do you know how many views exactly you’ve had so far?

BURNS: I’ve gotten over 2 million views on my channel already. I’m not sure the exact number, but it’s over 2 million.

MCFADYEN: Well, it’s hard to count exactly when the number gets that high isn’t it? Do you about know how many videos you have on YouTube now?

BURNS: Oh, I don’t even know how many elevators I’ve been in, I’ve been in… My favorite hotel chain is Hampton, and I’ve been in more than 55 Hampton hotels. But, I’m not really sure. I’ve got like over 1,000 elevator videos.

MCFADYEN: What’s the coolest elevator that you’ve been in?

BURNS: Up in Asheville, the Grove Park Inn historic elevator I’ve ridden. It’s a pretty cool elevator, it’s kind of in a chimney, and you don’t usually see those. It’s pretty much original. You don’t usually see those kind. And then, one that’s just like a regular elevator, but it’s very special to me, is also up in Asheville, the Hampton Inn Tunnel Road. And it’s special to me because they actually dedicated it to me…When I heard that, you know, it just kinda made me feel very special, and very honored that someone would actually dedicate an elevator to me.

MCFADYEN: You kind of like hotels, too, I noticed.

BURNS: Yes, I’ve actually stayed in a lot of hotels. But, I’ve actually, I think I go into hotels a lot more just to ride the elevators than I do to actually stay.

MCFADYEN: Have you ever gotten stuck in an elevator?

BURNS: I got stuck in an elevator once.

MCFADYEN: The phone worked and everything?

BURNS: So, what happened, it was in an elevator downtown. We were with some fans of mine. What happened, we rode them up to the top, and then we were going to go back down, and the doors closed, and it started to move just a little bit. But, then it stopped. It was just like a couple inches from the top floor, probably.

MCFADYEN: How long were you in there?

BURNS: We were in there probably about half an hour, I think. And then, the firefighters came and rescued us.

MCFADYEN: So, did you get scared at all from that?

BURNS: I was a little bit scared, because that was my first experience actually getting stuck in an elevator. And my fans that were with me, they were scared too. But, it was alright once we finally got out and got rescued.

MCFADYEN: And it didn’t slow you down?

BURNS :No. No, I still like to ride elevators even after that incident.

You can see TJ’s elevator videos on his website, www.tjelevatorfan.com