Since trees are now in season, I thought I might write a little about the “topping out” ceremony where a fir tree is hoisted to the highest beam. Have you ever been looking up at an unfinished building and see a Christmas tree on top? According to some sources, this rite was started as early as the eighth century in Scandinavian countries with sheaves of wheat. It became more of a custom later on in Holland. Other sources suggest that in 2700 AD, the Egyptians used a live plant to commemorate the slaves that died constructing the country’s first stone building.
In the USA, ironworkers began the tradition when finishing the skeleton of the building. The beam, nowadays usually topped by an evergreen tree and a flag, are hoisted together to the top of the building to signify the basic structure is finished.
Below is a picture of the 14-story Denver International Airport Hotel in Colorado, under construction. “Traditionally, the last structural beam is painted white and signed by as many workers as possible using paint pens. For this $544-million job, the beam was pretty densely packed with signatures,” said Mr. David Mashburn, who was on the executive design team. Because of the requirements of the city’s Green policy, the usual cut tree was replaced by a living tree.
If anyone knows additional information about the origin of the topping out ceremony, please comment. I’ve always thought this was an interesting tradition.