From The New York Times (OUR TOWNS; Extra! Elevator Shaft Plunge Leads to Love and Marriage)
It was the year 1940, in the New York City:
The whole thing started because Hilda Vogel got hungry. A 23-year-old medical secretary and recent German refugee, Miss Vogel was visiting her brother’s sixth-floor photo studio on East 48th Street. He took forever to close. To save time en route to dinner, Miss Vogel summoned the elevator.
The elevator door opened. She stepped in to pull the string on the light bulb. Oops! There was no elevator. Just a black void. She began plummeting to her death.
Over at City Hospital, the duty intern was hungry too. The call came in: Woman falls down elevator shaft. The intern begged a colleague, Nathan Serlin, to take that ambulance run. “It’s probably a D.O.A.,” he said. “You’ll be done in no time.”
So Miss Vogel was wearing her thickest gloves. She grabbed the elevator cable. She slid down. She landed hard. But not as hard as a free fall.
It was the arriving Dr. Serlin who really fell. “She was sitting on those stairs,” he recalls. “People hovered around. She was mortified. Her hands were greasy and burned. But all I could see were those blue eyes, the brightest blue I’d ever seen. They shined so in that dark hallway.” (Is someone playing a violin upstairs?)
Miss Vogel remembered one, no, two things about the ambulance doctor. One, when he bent down to examine her hands, his stiffly starched white uniform pants split right up the backside. And two, he scrubbed her raw hands very hard to remove the grease and graphite. He may have also noticed no wedding ring.
Before releasing her, Dr. Serlin noted Miss Vogel’s address and phone. Routine procedure, you understand. Two days later the 29-year-old man, being a thoughtful city employee who, as it happened, was romantically unattached despite his mother’s best efforts, telephoned his patient to inquire after her recovery. He also happened to inquire if he might call on her. And she said the most amazing thing; she said, “Yes.”
One thing led to another and here they are nearly 53 years later sitting in their living room showing off photos of both their daughters and grandchildren and reminiscing and correcting each other.
“For an enduring marriage,” says Mrs. Serlin, “the important thing is keeping communication lines open, always discussing and listening. We’re human. Sometimes we haven’t done that very well.”
“Oh, we have, Hilda. We don’t see eye-to-eye always. But we talk. We have the patience to listen to each other.”
“He doesn’t listen to me.”
“Hilda, I’m always listening to you.”
“You never let me finish a sent—-“
“I don’t need to. I know what you’re going to say.”
They smile. Theirs was a simple, deep courtship — coffee chats, long park walks and shared gazes, occasional spaghetti-clam sauce dinners for 65 cents. One day he simply said, “How about marrying me?”
“What?” she replied. They sent stacks of letters back and forth across the Pacific during the war; she recently re-read them. “He said he missed me very much.”
“I did. I still do whenever we’re apart.”
They moved here 42 years ago. They never left. Dr. Serlin doesn’t like change. “But I am very social.”
“You are not. You even play golf alone. And he doesn’t like movies.”
“I love westerns. And I still love that lady I met on those stairs.”
They also share a love of classical music — and surprises. She gave him a huge surprise birthday party. He’s still shocked. And he’s taking her out for their anniversary. “Oh, yes! Good!” says Dr. Serlin. “Put that in. She doesn’t know.”