The Ersatz Elevator
The Ersatz Elevator
Book Information

March 2001



Number in Series

Book the Sixth

Recurring Themes
Spine Color

Light Orange(UK)



Ex Libris

Top: Baudelaire children
Bottom: Gunther

Baudelaires' Guardian

Jerome and Esmé Squalor


Books about what is "in"

Olaf's Disguise


Final Image

The Baudelaire children sit on the steps of Veblen Hall, sobbing, and a crow passes by.

Letter to the Editor

Wet Paper


The Ersatz Elevator is the sixth book in A Series of Unfortunate Events, written by Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler).

Plot Summary

The Baudelaire orphans are brought to their new guardians by Mr. Poe. As they approach 667 Dark Avenue, the Baudelaires' new home, they approach a huge penthouse that blocks the sunlight. The doorman, who is dressed in a long coat that covers his hands, explains to them that they won't be able to use the elevator to get to the penthouse of their guardians, not because it is out of order, but because the neighborhood recently decided that elevators and light are no longer "in". Mr. Poe—recently promoted to his bank's Vice President in Charge of Orphan Affairs—departs for a helicopter ride in search of the Quagmire triplets, leaving the Baudelaire orphans to walk the 66 flights to the penthouse.

After a detailed description of the long, dark march upwards, the Baudelaires come to the penthouse. As the door is opened, they are welcomed by Jerome Squalor who leads them through several rooms as dark as the street and lobby. He offers them aqueous martinis (actually just water in a fancy glass with an olive) and introduces them to his wife Esmé Squalor who is a very "in" person and the city's sixth most important financial adviser. She explains everything that is "in" and "out," such as orphans being "in". Then they get a phone call that says light is "in" and dark is "out". The orphans wonder what would happen if orphans were "out". They then pick their rooms. Violet chooses the room with a work bench although tools are "out". Klaus picks the room next to the library that is full of "in" books on what is "in".

Esmé later mentions that it is boring to listen to the Baudelaires' worries about the Quagmire triplets. She gives them pinstripe suits she has bought for them because they are very "in". However, the pinstripe suits are too big but they go to put them on. Esmé mentions that they will go to Café Salmonella, an "in" restaurant. She tells them that she will stay at the penthouse with Gunther and discuss the "In" Auction which she explains is an auction that you sell everything that is "in". She says Gunther will be the auctioneer.

The Baudelaires go to try on their pinstripes when Gunther approaches with the element of surprise. They quickly learn he is Count Olaf. He has a monocle to disguise his eyebrow and boots to disguise his eye tattoo. He uses a funny accent and wears a pinstripe to look "in." Then Jerome takes them to Café Salmonella, which the Baudelaires don't enjoy, not because of the bad food, but the thought of Gunther. Jerome explains to them he thinks they are being xenophobic.

When they arrive home the doorman says nobody is allowed up to the penthouse until Gunther leaves and he says he hasn't. Jerome explains that he may be on his way down and so the doorman lets them go. When they reach the penthouse Esmé tells them that Gunther left a long time ago.

The next day Jerome offers to take the children to a tailor to fix their pinstripes but Esmé says he must go pick up the new "in" drink, parsley soda. So the children are alone and decide to search the penthouse for Gunther. They find nothing, so they decide to look for him in the other apartments by listening. They reach the bottom and find nothing but the fact that the building is 66 stories high. The doorman is putting up decorations on the elevator and Klaus begins to think really hard. At that time Esmé and Jerome come in with crates of parsley soda. They climb the staircase while Esmé is talking, Klaus is thinking, and the rest are quiet.

That night Klaus tells his sister that there is one elevator on each floor except for top floor which has two. They go to investigate and find one is an ersatz elevator. They then make an ersatz rope out of cords, ties, and curtains. They climb down and find the Quagmires trapped in a large cage. They say Gunther is trying to put them in an object in the auction and then have an associate bid the highest and smuggle them out of the city. Violet says she could melt and bend the metal cage and they go back up to make the invention. They find three fire tongs and warm them up in one of the 50 or so ovens in the penthouse. They climb back down to find the Quagmires had been taken by Count Olaf again. They are very grieved and go back up to the penthouse.

There they find a note from Jerome that says he has left and that Esmé will take them to the auction. Klaus decides to look in the auction catalog to see if they can find the lot that the Quagmires will be put into. They decide on lot #50, V.F.D. When they go to tell Esmé she agrees with them and grabs them. They calmly walk out the door and she leads them to the ersatz elevator. She opens the door and pushes them down the shaft. But they don't hit the ground. They hit a net and become trapped. Esmé laughs and says that Olaf is a wonderful person and that he was her acting teacher. She leaves them and goes to the auction.

Sunny uses her teeth to climb up the shaft. Violet tells her to get the ersatz rope and jump down here. Sunny bites a hole in the net and they attach the rope to the pegs that hold up the net. They climb through the hole till they reach the bottom. At the bottom are Violet's ersatz welding torches. They use those as light to travel down the hall at the bottom. When they reach the end of the long hall they don't know what to do. They try getting someone's attention by banging on the ceiling and ash comes down. They find it's a trap door and they use the tongs to pry the door open. It works and when they get out they find the Baudelaire Mansion that had been burnt down.

They rush to Veblen Hall, where the auction is, and walk inside. They see a huge crowd of people and Mr. Poe is one of them along with Jerome. One peculiar factor in this scene is that Jerome is seen eating a salmon puff, even though earlier in the book he stated that he can't stand the taste of salmon. This could be reason to believe that Jerome might be in disguise or stated that he didn't like salmon for some unknown reason. Gunther and Esmé are on the stage where they are just auctioning off Lot #46. They tell Jerome and Mr. Poe to buy them Lot #50. Then Lot #48 (which is a statue of a red herring) to the doorman. He tells his "boss" that they're here. Gunther skips Lot #49 and goes right to #50 which is a big box. Mr. Poe and Jerome back down and then Sunny bids 1,000 dollars on it. The Baudelaires rush up and tear the box open only to reveal Very Fancy Doilies. Count Olaf's identity is revealed when he slips on a doily and his boots and monocle come off, and he and Esme run out of the auction hall. The audience tries to chase them, but get into a hopeless tangle when slipping on the doilies and tumbling down. Jerome quits taking care of them, the doorman is The Hook-Handed Man, and the Quagmires are in the red herring.


  • Ersatz is German for fake.
  • When the children climb up the stairs they can hear a woman say, 'Let them eat cake.' This is a phrase falsely attributed to Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI.
  • One of the books were in Jerome's library is called Boots Were 'In' in 1812. This came from one of the Grimm's Fairy Tale, 'The Boots of Buffalo Leather' which was written in 1812.

Dear Reader: A Letter From Lemony Snicket

Dear Reader,

If you have just picked up this book, then it is not too late to put it back down. Like the previous books in A Series of Unfortunate Events, there is nothing to be found in these pages but misery, despair, and discomfort, and you still have time to choose something else to read.

Within the chapters of this story, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire, encounter a brightly colored staircase, a red herring, some friends in a dire situation, three mysterious initials, a liar with an evil scheme, a secret passageway, and parsley soda.

I have sworn to write down these tales of the Baudelaire orphans so the general public will know each terrible thing that has happened to them, but if you decide to read something else instead, you will save yourself from a heapful of horror and woe.

With all due respect,


Lemony Snicket

Beatrice Dedication

For Beatrice–
When we met, my life began.
Soon afterward, yours ended.

V.F.D. References


Final Picture

In the last picture of The Ersatz Elevator, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny appear sitting on the steps of Veblen Hall as Very Fancy Doilies fall through the air. A stray black crow can be seen flying across the scene.

Letter to the Editor

To My Kind Editor,

I am sorry this paper is sopping wet, but I am writing this from the place where the Quagmire Triplets were hidden.

The next time you run out of milk, buy a new carton at Cash Register #19 of the Not-Very-Supermarket. When you arrive home, you will find my description of the Baudelaires' recent experience in this dreadful town, entitled THE VILE VILLAGE, has been tucked into your grocery sack, along with a burnt-out torch, the tip of a harpoon, and a chart of the migration paths of the V.F.D. crows. There is also a copy of the official portrait of the Council of Elders, to help Mr. Helquist with his illustrations.

Remember, you are my last hope that the tales of the Baudelaire orphans can finally be told to the general public.

With all due respect,


Lemony Snicket

Word Definitions




Main Article: References and allusions in Lemony Snicket's works

Name Allusions

  • Esmé Gigi Genevive Squalor's name is a reference to J.D. Salinger's short story "For Esmé - With Love and Squalor." Esmé's middle names may be references as well. Gigi may be a reference to the novella Gigi by French writer Colette, whose story follows a young Parisian girl, in training to be a courtesan, who later marries a wealthy man. Genevive may refer to American politician Coya Knutson.
  • Jerome Squalor shares the first name "Jerome" with author J.D.Salinger. Jerome Squalor conveniently has the initials J.S., which is a recurring acronym in the series.
  • Gunther, Olaf's disguise, may refer to the ancient King of Burgundy, Gunther.

Setting Allusions

  • The Café Salmonella is a reference to salmon and to the virus of the same name.
  • The Verne Invention Museum, said to be located in town, is a reference to Jules Verne, a science-fiction author.
  • Akhmatova Book Store, also located in town, is a reference to Russian poet Anna Akhmatova.
  • Pincus Hospital, where Sunny was born, is an ironic reference to Gregory Goodwin Pincus, inventor of the contraceptive pill.
  • There are 1,849 windows in 667 Dark Avenue. 1849 is the year in which Edgar Allan Poe died.
  • 667 Dark Avenue is one number away from 666, a number often associated with evil. In an English joke, 667 is "The Neighbour of the Beast." Also, there are 66 floors in the building and this is the sixth book, two more references to the number six.
  • Veblen Hall, the site of the auction of mostly useless goods, may be a reference to Thorstein Veblen, a sociologist who coined the phrase "conspicuous consumption."

Plot Allusions

  • The opening discussion of nervous versus anxious is reminiscent of The Giver written by Lois Lowry.
  • When the Baudelaires first climb the stairs to the penthouse, they overhear a woman say, "Let them eat cake," a quote attributed to Marie Antoinette.
  • Jerome Squalor, when discussing xenophobia, mentions Galileo and Jun'ichirō Tanizaki.
  • Scylla and Charybdis of Homer's The Oddysey were mentioned by Klaus. However, he incorrectly claims that Heracles, rather than Odysseus, encountered them and escaped "by turning them both into whirlpools."
  • Lot 49 of the In Auction, a set of rare stamps, is a reference to the novel The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon.
  • 'Red Herring' is a phrase used for a detail that distracts from something of importance. Coincidentally, Lot #50, described as "V.F.D," was a red herring, while the red herring decoration actually contained the Quagmire triplets.
  • One of the books in the Squalor library, entitled Boots Were In in 1812, may be a reference to one of the Grimm Brothers' Fairy Tales, "The Boots of Buffalo Leather," which was supposedly written in 1812.

Sunny’s Allusions

  • While holding an armful of Jerome's neckties, Sunny utters, "Armani," a reference to Armani, an Italian fashion house.


Book Editions

Several editions of The Ersatz Elevator have been published. Some of these include foreign editions or re-prints such as: The Ersatz Elevator (UK), The Ersatz Elevator (UK Paperback) and Ascenseur pour la Peur.

The Ersatz Elevator (UK)

This edition has the same content as in the original one. The main difference here is the cover, which is black, has different fonts and an orange spine. Brett Helquist's illustration is also different. The book is published by Egmont. On each of the UK versions, between the coloured spine and the black cover there are narrow images depicting a reference to each books content. The Ersatz Elevator features what is presumably the ersatz rope used by the Baudelaires in the book. This is repeated on the back cover.

The Ersatz Elevator (UK Paperback)

This is a paperback version of The Ersatz Elevator released in the UK by Egmont Books in 2010. It has Lemony Snicket written on the top with A Series of Unfortunate Events written below it in an eye shape. Unlike the hardback version, the illustration fills up the majority of the cover.

Ascenseur pour la Peur

This French edition, published by Nathan Poche has a very different cover, Brett Helquist's illustration is not seen here, apart for a portrait of the Baudelaires. It is almost entirely black, with a white illustration of gears.


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