A Light Conversation with Shannon Perry

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There’s more to see at Town Hall aside from the plethora of events that we have taking place (you can check out our calendar here). There is art to see. Town Hall commissioned several artists to create permanent pieces that can be found throughout our building. In the southwest stairwell, for instance, you’ll see artwork on light boxes done by Shannon Perry.

Town Hall’s Jonathan Shipley recently sat down with Perry to discuss babies, glass powder, and tattoos.

JS: How did you become aware/get introduced to Town Hall?

SP: I’ve been attending talks, book releases, and concerts at Town Hall for years. The arts and literature community got me acquainted with the space originally. 

JS: Why did you want to work with Town Hall with your art?

SP: Town Hall provides space for such a diverse array of talented performers, authors, and artists from all over the world. I’m proud to have my art featured in the space. 

JS: What was the inspiration for your Town Hall artwork?

SP: I was pregnant while working on this project and gave birth shortly after I completed the drawings. It was a massively transitional time for me and my identity was torn between my rebellious pre-motherhood life and wanting to provide a stable, structured environment for my son without losing touch with the theatrical idealism of youth. The recurring vine is representative of life marching ever onward, and the vignettes placed throughout mark moments  of feeling within that timeline viewed from this new and intimidating precipice. More generally, it’s about growth. The piece is a reflection, both on Town Hall’s redevelopment and the experiences I’ve had there—and the different perspectives I’ve had at each event over the years crystalized into a sort of floating timeline.

JS: What was your favorite thing about creating this piece?

SP: I got to work with a great team of people, most specifically Bradley Sweek of Amiga Light, who has been a longtime mentor to me. Seeing my illustrations screen-printed with glass powder and melted into glass felt really special and permanent. I’m a tattoo artist by trade, so I work with permanent art all the time but being able to hold the glass and feel the tangible weight of it was a super gratifying experience.

JS: What was the most challenging thing about this project?

SP: This project helped expand my skill set to making larger pieces of work that are fleshed out over time. Typically I work on pieces I can finish in one or two sittings, due to the constraints of creating art on people’s bodies. I’m excited to see what new projects I will create as a result of finding out how much I enjoyed moving into a larger and more tangible framework!

JS: What do you hope Town Hall attendees get from the piece?

SP: I hope they can create their own stories and experiences with it. Most of all, I hope the humorous aspects of some of the themes will serve as a wink to children, punks, misfits and grandmothers alike.


JS: What’s next, artistically, for you?

SP: I’m working on a series of screen prints of new illustrations, some of which I’d love to eventually see turn into murals, or possibly a children’s book for all ages? I am always excited to see what the future brings, at least pertaining to making art!

Waxing Poetic with Sarah Galvin

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There’s more to see at Town Hall aside from the plethora of events that we have taking place (you can check out our calendar here). There is art to see. Town Hall commissioned several artists to create permanent pieces that can be found throughout our building. In the south stairwell, for instance, you’ll see a poem written by local literary luminary Sarah Galvin.

Town Hall’s Jonathan Shipley recently sat down with Galvin to discuss her process, the poem, and gargoyle people.

JS: What’s your arts background?

SG: I started writing seriously in second grade. I was obsessed with Lord of the Rings and Narnia, and tried to write a novel about gargoyle people living on a planet made of ice cream. People told me I might be older when I finally got to publish, and I remember feeling so frustrated. I wanted to publish a book RIGHT NOW. I think as a service to little kid me I will actually try to publish that book, which was about 90 pages long, at some point. I started writing poetry when I was 14, after reading Ginsberg’s “Howl.” I was very into stream of consciousness writing at that age and what came out of that obsession was terrible. At 16 I began going to performances by this one-man-band called Sexually Active Corpse. SAC, a man named Will Waley, sang pornographic, surreal nursery rhymes over beats made with a Casio and an assortment of children’s instruments. My first real poems were sort of an imitation of his lyrics, which listed the hypersexual, surreal behaviors of a multi-gendered “speaker” with the ability to change bodies and travel through time, among other magic powers. The poems inspired by Will were also terrible. I finally began to write real poems when I realized that music, a beat, and a tune provided Will’s art a layer of meaning and a source of momentum that I needed to create somehow silently on the page. My first source of guidance for this was Joe Wenderoth’s “Letters to Wendy’s” which is (depending on who you ask) an epistolary novel or a series of poems using Wendy’s restaurant comment cards as a formal template. After gaining a rudimentary understanding of how to structure prose poems from “Letters to Wendy’s,” I started reading all the poetry I could find, and picked up techniques as I read.

JS: How did you become aware/get introduced to Town Hall?

SG: After I was accepted to University of Washington’s poetry MFA program, I went to see my soon-to-be thesis advisor, Heather McHugh, read at Town Hall. I had been freelancing at The Stranger, and when I walked into the auditorium, several people I knew from the paper smiled at me and beckoned to me to enter the room. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. I started to cry. I saw Heather, up on the stage, dressed as a bird in a flesh-colored spandex bodysuit, and all these people from the paper I could hardly believe had admitted me to work with them, and thought, “how do I deserve to be in this beautiful place with these geniuses? How can this be where I belong?” Ever since that night, I have had tender and reverent feelings about Town Hall. I believe it is a cathedral of art in Seattle.

JS: Why did you want to work with Town Hall with your poetry?

SG: It was an incredible honor, given my first experience of that space and what it has come to symbolize to me, to be asked to contribute a poem to be permanently on view there. I felt like I was completing something that began the first time I walked into Town Hall, answering for myself the question of whether I really could create anything worthy of the space. It is a magical place for me, in a way, the place where I went in a few steps from making a child’s art to making grown-up art. Town Hall for me has always physically manifested a right of passage. I was a student, now I hope it’s time for me to teach, to beckon the next generation of artists into that grand hall.

THE STREET LIGHT TODAY IS AN ANGEL OF THE LORD

Because you had never seen a seagull, your description of the one
that flew into the store where you worked inspired
the manager to call the police.

I want everything to be like that bird, so overwhelmingly itself
that it is its own spotlight,

but 90% of things are the guy sitting next to me who punctuates
statements like “I’ll pull together some numbers for you” by
pounding the table so hard, my coffee bounces.

His animation lacks the meaning of emotion it references, like
an elaborate set with no play.

There are so many sets. The absence of a play seems like an emergency,
considering the amount of wasted resources,

but there’s not really anyone to call
about that kind of emergency, which perhaps is
why people pray.

JS: What was the inspiration for the piece?

SG: Richard Kenney, one of my professors in grad school, was talking about poets in a lecture. He said something about how people look at poets like they’re crazy in their exaltation of mundane moments. Something like: “Without poetry, you walk up to somebody and say, ‘the streetlight today is an angel of the lord,” and they think you’re nuts. But you really saw that.” Exaltation of mundane moments is what poetry is all about. The primary project of art in any medium is to lift the veil of familiarity from life, which we need in order to function (imagine being blown away by every streetlight! You would never make it home from work.) When art works it makes every experience it exhibits feel like you’re experiencing it as a child again. Shortly after I met my wife five years ago, she said when she first got to Seattle as a teenager she worked at Urban Outfitters, and one day a seagull came into the store. Being from North Carolina, she had never seen one of our gigantic stretch Hummer seagulls before, so she called security and told them a “large waterfowl” had entered the building, and they better come quick. They of course laughed when they saw it was just a giant Dick’s fries-fed Seattle Seagull. It’s a love poem—I adored the exaltation of something familiar in her response to the trespassing seagull. Over and over, she makes my world new, gives me inspiration, and this poem expresses that facet of our love. Art is the core of our relationship in a lot of ways.

JS: What’s your process with your poetry? Is it systematic (specific times/places you write)? How much editing do you do after? 

SG: I usually start with words from a conversation I found interesting. In this case it was Richard Kenney’s lecture. But it can be a sentence from a dream, something from social media, a poorly translated restaurant menu. I don’t think initially about what it “means,” I just follow a train of associations to create the poem. It feels like a desire to answer a question, like, what did that random sentence mean to me? Why do I keep thinking about this image? And because of the inspiration, my poems usually get their momentum from a poetic device called “anaphora” in which the same image or concept recurs and develops throughout a poem. I will write for four or five hours, finessing the same small set of words, then let the draft sit for a week or two, after which I dive back in for an intense round of editing that lasts vastly different lengths of times based on the length and complexity of the poem. Very occasionally, a poem just appears in 20 minutes in exactly the form it should be.

JS: Are there specific messages you’re wanting to convey in your work or are you opening it up to readers to give their own interpretations?

SG: I would say I hope the readers wind up in a similar emotional space after reading my poems, but I want that to be specific and personal to each of them. I want them to finish the poems with a sense of conclusion, yet with more questions than they had before they started reading. And I want them to feel deeply excited by the questions. You know how when people in cartoons turn invisible, sometimes somebody throws flour or a sheet over them and you can see someone’s there? That’s how poetry works for me. It outlines meanings that are too complex to be directly expressed with words. But I try to make the poems accessible—I want every reader to see that the invisible cartoon character is Donald Duck and not Mickey, even if they see an outline and not all of his features. It’s not language poetry, which tries to de-commodify poetry by completely relying on the reader to create meaning.

JS: What do you hope Town Hall attendees get from this particular piece?

SG: Well, as I mentioned the only words that can express what a poem is “about” are the exact words of the poem itself—I’m fond of the idea that “poetry is ‘about’ something the way a cat is ‘about’ the house—but this one is about love, and how when you really love someone, their day-to-day experiences fill you with wonder, awe and endearment. It’s also about how, as humans living through late-stage capitalism, we spend much of our time trapped in a sort of quantitative experience of life, and the little moments of love and art that free us from that. I hope people will read the poem and feel a renewed appreciation for the people they love and the moments of beauty those people bring. I hope they feel compelled to tell the important people in their lives they love them, and to make art.

JS: What’s next, artistically, for you?

SG: I just finished a new manuscript, which I sent to Black Ocean, the press that absorbed my previous press Gramma’s catalogue (which includes my most recent book, Ugly Time) when they closed down. I’ve been teaching a bit and want to teach way more! I love it. I just pitched a few classes to Hugo House, and ideally at some point I’d love to teach a class or two a quarter at Cornish, UW, or Central. I’ve been looking into how to make that happen. I also teach one-on-one writing lessons, so if you’re reading this and are interested, get in touch with me through my website! For those of you who have taken my classes, I’m sorry to say the price of the class no longer includes unlimited Jell-o shots, as I stopped drinking a year ago, but there will probably still be candy. Also, I like to write at least a couple of essays or reviews a month, and at the moment I have nowhere to publish them, so I’m looking for a publication to freelance regularly for. Oh, and I turned my blog, the Pedestretarian, a series of reviews of food found on the ground, into an Instagram, and I may either find a publication that will publish the reviews as a regular column, or start my own little printed publication. I’m also working on a book of essays.

Behind the Otto Bar

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Otto Haas moved to Philadelphia in 1909 from Germany to expand his company, Rohm and Haas, which became wildly successful. In 1945 he used some of his wealth to start a foundation to address post-war social needs, and his children and grandchildren have continued his philanthropic legacy. His grandson thinks Otto would have felt very at home at Town Hall: “Otto cared so deeply about his local community, and he made sure no one was ever left behind. He would appreciate Town Hall’s commitment to making a place where everyone is welcome and can afford to take part.”

Otto’s commitment to his community was evidenced throughout his life, work, and approach to running his business. He believed it was his responsibility to ensure that his employees could live a good life. During the Depression, he worked hard to make sure no one ever lost their job. As Duncan noted “They might have to make do with a different role for a little while, but he did whatever it took to make sure their livelihoods were secure.”

Outside of public life, Otto was known for his mischievous sense of humor, love of the outdoors, and gathering with his family. Town Hall is grateful for the opportunity to honor his memory in our own gathering space, the Otto bar in the Wyncote Foundation NW Forum.

Portrait of Otto Haas by Kathryn Rathke.

The Ishaque and Maria Mehdi Reading Room

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Town Hall’s newest performance space is the Ishaque and Maria Mehdi Reading Room. Located on the lobby level in the former staff offices, the room features sculptures made from Town Hall’s reclaimed organ pipes and ephemera from Ishaque and Maria’s life. The Reading Room hosts community gatherings and intimate performances of all sorts, and when not in use for an event, is also a quiet place to sit with your thoughts or a notebook. We learned more about Maria and Ishaque from Town Hall board member, Yazmin Mehdi.  

“For all of us, it made sense to name this space for Mom and Dad: to have a space to honor them and to be a legacy for their five grandchildren.”
– Yazmin Mehdi

For Liam Lavery and Yazmin, Yusuf and Stephanie Mehdi, Town Hall is a temple of lifelong learning, a place to hear interesting speakers, music from around the world, and more.  They were keen to contribute to Town Hall’s capital program to ensure another 100-year future for the building and this wonderful organization. Below, they share Ishaque’s and Maria’s history. 

Ishaque Mehdi emigrated to the United States from India at 18 to study. He already had a Bachelor of Science in Physics. He earned a second B.S. in Electrical Engineering at the University of Florida, and then got hired by Boeing.  He later earned both a Master’s of Science and an MBA from Seattle University while working full-time. Maria de Lourdes Sotomayor met Ishaque when he took a rare vacation to San Francisco. She was studying the American educational system with a group of teachers from Mexico, and happened to be there at the same time.  Ishaque asked Maria to marry him three days after they met. It took him six months more to get her to agree.

Ishaque was a great believer that a good education was the key to a good life.  And as a trained teacher, Maria agreed. Besides her own teaching – of preschoolers, of adults through The Language School, and of students in the Sunset Elementary immersion program in Bellevue – Maria spent time in schools volunteering in her children’s classrooms, making piñatas for parties and attending science fairs, recitals, soccer games, and all manner of school events.  Ishaque diligently took both of his children to the Renton Public Library every Monday night to exchange their stacks of books from the week before. By example and through story-telling, Maria and Ishaque instilled a deep love of stories and learning in their children. 

All of us at Town Hall Seattle are grateful for the Lavery/Mehdis’ ongoing support and advocacy on behalf of our organization and this place. We are honored to recognize their gift to the Campaign for Town Hall—as well as their family’s legacy—in this room.

Meet the Otto

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Located in the Forum, the Otto is a great spot to meet with friends before an event or keep the conversation going afterward! Here’s everything you need to know to make yourself at home at Town Hall’s newest bar:

When is the Otto open?

Throughout Homecoming (September 2 – 29, 2019), the Otto is open most event nights from 5:30pm – 10:30pm. Exceptions are below:

  • The Otto is closed Tuesday 9/3, Sunday 9/15, Tuesday, 9/17, and Friday 9/27.
  • The Otto has different hours Saturday 9/7 (1:30pm – 10:30pm), Sunday 9/8 (3pm – 7:30pm), Saturday 9/21 (3:30pm – 10:30pm), Sunday 9/22 (3pm – 7:30pm), and Sunday 9/29 (5:30pm – 7:30pm).

What does the Otto serve?

You can purchase beer, wine, and non-alcoholic beverages. You can also bring in your own snacks and non-alcoholic drinks.

Please note: Guests are not allowed to bring their own alcohol, and any alcohol purchased at Town Hall must be consumed on the premises in a safe and responsible manner. Town Hall staff will refuse sale to impaired or underage guests.

Is the Otto an all-ages space?

Yes! Everyone is welcome at the Otto. 

Is the Otto open while there’s an event in the Forum?

Service is usually paused during Forum events, but the space is still open. (You’re welcome to buy a ticket for the night’s program and stick around.) On evenings where there is a program in the Great Hall, but not the Forum, the Otto remains open for service throughout.

How did the Otto get its name?

The Otto is named after Otto Haas, the beloved grandfather of Duncan Haas of the Wyncote Foundation NW. Duncan is a visionary investor in Town Hall and gave a naming gift for the Forum during the renovation. It seemed fitting to honor his grandfather’s memory within the space!

What’s up with the wood on the bar?

The bar is made from reclaimed organ pipes from our old organ loft. (You can find even more of our former organ transformed into benches throughout the space and as a sculpture in the Reading Room.)

We Did It!

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Our General Manager, Mary Cutler, floated into the office this morning, arms swaying and voice sing-song: “Today is a normal day. Let’s all pretend it’s a normal day.” It is, decidedly, not a normal day. But we echoed her feigned calm and did our best to think about anything other than what was happening across the street. Our final inspection was underway. If given the thumbs up, the building—after nearly two full seasons of renovation—would officially be ours again.

That calm pretense was traded for cheers as Mary shared the good news: we passed. As of 11:46 am today, May 16, Town Hall Seattle is no longer a construction site.

The staff raced over and (without hard hats!) entered through the freshly painted 8th Ave doors, explored stairwells, and marveled at the Reading Room’s bare but beautiful form. We gathered on the Great Hall stage to pop a bottle of champagne, toast one another and the community that made this possible—and also to really feel what’s on the horizon. Wier’s toast hit home: “Twenty years of Town Hall. And now, right now, we get to start it all again.”

Whether you’ve been with us since 1999, met us during Inside/Out, or are stumbling across this post because a friend happened to share a link: we are so incredibly glad you’re here. The future and possibilities of Town Hall have never been quite so bright, and each of us are necessary to manifesting its potential.

We mean that in the grand sense, and also in the practical. This summer is our soft launch; there’s still a lot of fine tuning ahead of us and we need your help–your presence and participation–to get it right. Please lend us your patience (and opinions!) as we grow into the new building, and we hope you’ll enjoy new details coming into place every time you visit this spring and summer (from smaller items like wayfinding signage to big things like bar service and commissioned artwork). With your help, the building will be the best version of itself in time for our big Homecoming festival this September!

Our very first event in the Great Hall is just days away (Tuesday, May 21), and we can’t imagine a more fitting debut for the room. Joshua Roman, our longtime friend and Town Music Artistic Director, will lend us his virtuosic talents in a solo cello concert. There are still a few tickets remaining, and we hope you’ll join us to help mark the moment.

Even as we celebrate the end of our own renovation, we should note: more than just Town Hall has been under construction. Our full block is in the midst of being developed. While the plaza and Ovation towers are being built, the Forum is accessible via our new at-grade West Entrance, reachable from the loading zone on Seneca street.

Lectern Lectures

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The Forum is now open! We’re excited about all the possibilities of the space. One item in the new space is a functional piece of art—the lectern. Comprised primarily of 14-gauge cold-rolled steel and finished with acid patina and wax, the lectern’s height is electrically variable from 42” to 48” via linear actuator. Its body rolls on ‘ball races,’ typically used for heavy material handling, but reconfigured and manufactured as furniture casters, complete with brakes!

Karl Swanson, who built the lectern, chatted briefly with Town Hall’s marketing manager, Jonathan Shipley, about his art.

Karl Swanson

JS: What is your full time job?

KS: I don’t work full-time anywhere…I am self-underemployed, focusing on my personal art.

JS: How did you get into metalwork?

KS: I was self-introduced to metal fabrication in my grandfather’s shop in Grand Island, Nebraska. He did his own maintenance on his many rental properties. He had all types of tools and materials, and me and my siblings were free to explore. I once made a chicken out of wire, nuts, and bolts! My earliest love was automobiles, and to be creative with them you needed metalworking skills, so that steered me in the general direction. Also, after dropping out of art school, my step-mother recommended that I attend vocational school and learn to weld, both for work and sculpture. Although I ultimately did not do the schooling, the suggestion nudged me toward the craft.

JS: What are some other metal projects that you’ve done?

KS: I was a metal fabricator professionally for 25 years, all told. Everything from blacksmithing to aerospace metal fabrication. I did my own sculptural furniture in Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Santa Barbara. The list of projects is long. Recently, I built folding bunk beds for a tiny house construction company that was being filmed for a reality TV show.

JS: Why did you want to work with Town Hall?

KS: My family has a long tradition of being supportive of—and being culturally nurtured by—Town Hall. The building’s renovation project was impressive and ambitious and I wanted to take part somehow. Also, Wier Harman had been instrumental in helping our family find the perfect care facility for our matriarch and I wanted to return the favor.

JS: About the lectern—what aspect of it are you most proud of?

KS: I am most proud of creating a tool that satisfies both myself as a designer/fabricator and Town Hall as an end user.

JS: What was the most challenging aspect of the lectern?

KS: The most challenging part was the time frame: fully six months from first discussions to finished product. There were some relatively minor technical challenges that I lost a bit of sleep over, but those are to be expected with custom fabrication when there are moving components.

JS: What’s your next metal project?

KS: I plan to do some personal small-scale sculpture with copper, brass and cloth. I will also continue to do itinerant metalwork for a shop in Santa Barbara. I might possibly help with the exterior electric bicycle corral at Town Hall, too!

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to The Forum

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Our renovation has touched every corner of Town Hall. When the cranes clear out and the plaster is all swept up, some of our performance spaces will feel revitalized yet familiar—while others will get to introduce themselves all over again.

The Great Hall will retain its classic warmth (with a few modern amenities), but our downstairs space is undergoing a complete transformation. Downstairs is becoming The Forum, a completely modular 300-seat space designed to keep up with Town Hall’s fluid calendar. The room’s design allows it to become the best possible version of itself, re-forming to fit the needs of each event and completely transfiguring the energy each night.

Here are a few events we wish we could have put on in The Forum while we’ve been Inside/Out:

Any Saturday Family Concert with Caspar Babypants. We could rearrange the room to give the kids a wide open dance space up by the stage.

An episode of Sandbox Radio. Sandbox brings so much energy to the stage—and so many performers! Plus they usually bring tons of instruments and sound effects, so they need all the room they can get.

Pie & Whiskey. Can you imagine the whole room downstairs smelling like fresh-baked pie coming from the new kitchen? Delicious.

MIT Enterprise Forum: Art in the 21st Century. On January 16, 2019 the folks from the MIT Enterprise Forum turned The Summit into a pop-up art gallery, with a panel discussion to tie it all together. Once Town Hall’s downstairs is fully transformed into The Forum, we’ll have the flexibility to do that too—plus so much more.

Sign up on our mailing list to hear more updates about our renovation schedule and to hear more news about our building reopening.

Elevator Pitch

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Town Hall’s historic renovation is in its homestretch. We’ll reopen in the coming months but there’s still work to do!  Help us raise $200,000 in new gifts by the end of February and an anonymous donor will match your gifts, dollar-for-dollar. Learn more here.

While we’re eager to open our doors again, we’re starting a new series entitled “If These Halls Could Talk,” highlighting specific upgrades and enhancements to our building. One renovation we’re particularly happy with is our elevator. We’ve installed a gleaming, bright, state-of-the-art thyssenkrupp elevator. It recently had a talk with our old elevator, Otis.

thyssenkrupp: Otis, you did good work.

Otis: Thanks! I was moving people up and down at Town Hall for years!

thyssenkrupp: You’ve got quite a storied history.

Otis: Do I ever! Otis is the world’s largest manufacturer of vertical transportation systems! Otis invented the “safety elevator” in 1852. Sweet Elisha Otis was our founder. After he demonstrated his newfangled elevator at the 1854 World’s Fair in New York City, the elevator industry established credibility! His 1857 steam plow invention didn’t gain steam though. Ha!

thyssenkrupp: You’re telling me that without Otis, I wouldn’t be here!

Otis: You’re too kind! But, yes. Not to brag, but our elevators have been in some of the world’s most famous structures.

thyssenkrupp: Do tell!

Otis: The Eiffel Tower. Have you heard of it?! Oh, I have stories. The Empire State Building. That’s pretty famous. The original World Trade Center. CN Tower. Oh. And yes, of course, Town Hall Seattle.

thyssenkrupp: I’m honored to follow in your illustrious footsteps and add something new.

Otis: How so?

thyssenkrupp: Modernization. Innovation. Efficiency.

Otis: Indeed. Your engineering prowess is first rate.

thyssenkrupp: In 40 short years we’ve become one of the world’s leading elevator companies with unique engineering capabilities. Saving energy and time is what I’m known for. When done well, urban mobility drives down congestion, pollution, stress, and energy consumption.

Otis: Archimedes, what would he think of you now?!

thyssenkrupp: Good ol’ Archimedes! He reportedly built the world’s first elevator, probably in 236 BC.

Otis: And here you are, carrying on his legacy.

thyssenkrupp: I plan to! I’m an endura 35 II A with a 3,500 pound capacity. A smooth, quiet, and efficient workhorse, I am quite suited for Town Hall’s demands. I’m a part of thyssenkrupp AG that has over 155,000 employees in nearly 80 countries! One of the world’s largest steel producers, our products range from frigates to submarines, trains to a Town Hall elevator.

Otis: I’m floored.

thyssenkrupp: Ha! Don’t forget that you can help raise me, and Town Hall, up with a financial contribution. Do it today!  

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