Confehr: New twist on old tale of no exit

Friday, March 12, 2010

Installation of a door paddle lever on the front and center door to the Marshall County Courthouse Annex last week reminded me of getting locked in the Franklin County Courthouse in Winchester one night in the 1980s.

The reason for my ungainly situation - other than the fact that the door was locked - is long forgotten. It was probably a county commission committee meeting. That's where a tired reporter could hurry up a slow committee by closing his eyes, be still, breathe deeply and listen quietly. When the meeting adjourned some keynotes, quotes and concepts could be scribbled in a notebook for phone calls later. It can be done if you recognize voices. Usually, there were half a dozen men in the room.

Anyway, steps from the basement led to a hallway with four sets of doors that lead to stairs and the courthouse lawn. Windows open from the inside, but they're horizontal, long and short. No way out.

This was before cell phones. Without coins to make a pay phone call, I dialed 911 at a payphone. It was my emergency. The little round disk in the middle of the dial had the payphone's number.

In those days, the dispatcher had to ask for your location because a caller ID system wasn't installed yet. So the situation was explained and the payphone number was given in case something else happened at 8 p.m. on a Tuesday night in the town of 6,000 people. Apparently there wasn't.

Of course there was some ribbing and general fun-making over what happened.

Now, on the Lewisburg Public Square, if you're late leaving the historic courthouse, there's what's commonly called a crash bar at the two sets of doors. That's what the paddle is for at the front-center door in the Courthouse Annex.

There is another way out of the front of Courthouse Annex. Across the wide vestibule at the entrance, between the two sets of glass doors and directly across from the elevator doors, there's a door marked "Exit." Another sign says it's a fire door that should remain closed. For years, people would open that door, walk into the ground floor landing of a stair case, turn right and push the crash bar on the fire escape door where there's another sign. It says make sure the door is locked behind you.

The paddle door isn't there for the convenience of those who can't read, or figure out how to use the fire escape. It's so those in a wheel chair - with no one to help them - can press the paddle, unlock the door and let themselves out.

For most of us, it's easier than dialing 911.