There’s a term in the construction world referring to the placement of a final structural beam. It’s called “topping out” and is cause for a minor celebration. Creating the structure of a building is a huge undertaking and an overall milestone on the way to completion. Now, you might be wondering what topping out has to do with trees. Great question.
Typically, a tree is sent up and placed with the final structural beam. It seems a bit odd, but like most traditions, this one has a few interesting origin stories.
This backstory often receives most credit for the topping out tradition. It’s probably the oldest lore as well – reaching as far back as pre-Dark Age. A the legend goes, sheathes of grain were placed on top of every new building constructed. It was done with the intention of making the spirits happy and in turn, life would continue on without hardship.
Native American Tradition
This one comes from the early construction of high-rises in America. Many Native Americans were hired by contractors to assist in the construction of America’s high rises. These were the first buildings that could stand taller than any tree in the land. According to the Native American beliefs, no man-made structure should be taller than the trees. In conjunction with their belief, they placed a tree on top of the structure – making it taller than the building itself.
Some people within the industry do not know the rich history behind the topping out ceremony, but they continue doing it for other reasons. Some contractors believe the tree, especially an evergreen, is there to symbolize an everlasting structure. Those who don’t comply are doomed for disaster to strike. If a tree isn’t available, some contractors have gone as far as placing a wooden broom bristle side up to avoid the perceived bad luck.
It’s always interesting to see how traditions evolve and origin stories change with the passing of time. No matter how we look at it, the topping out ceremony will live on and add a little flair to each structure they grace!