They put a tree atop the new Albany convention center building... why?

The Albany Capital Center isn't set to open until March of next year, but officials celebrated the completion of the structural framework of the new convention center in downtown Albany Tuesday with a "topping off" ceremony in which the final steel beam was lifted to the top. And on that beam were an evergreen tree and an American flag.

You might have noticed this sort of ceremony (also known as "topping out") at other local projects -- the Rivers Casino project had one back in April.

So... what's with the tree?

The short answer

The use of the tree is a tradition that stretches back more than a thousand years to the northern Europe. And it's continued in more modern times thanks to ironworkers.

The somewhat longer answer

In the journal Western Folklore in 2001, John V. Robinson explored the origins and traditions associated with topping out ceremonies -- and links the modern version of the tradition to ironworkers. A clip:

One reason the ironworkers observe the topping out custom is the simple fact that they are the first workers to the reach the top of the structure. I guess the impulse to commemorate the achievement is similar to that of mountain climbers -- or astronauts landing on the moon for that matter. Topping out the structure means the end is in sight for the "raising gang" -- the men who actually set the iron in place. There is more work to be done, and ironworkers will be involved in some aspects of it, but the heavy work is done and the raising gang is almost out of a job. While no two topping out ceremonies are the same, they usually have some combination of a tree, a flag, the ritual signing of the final beam, and a party.

Robinson goes to trace the history of the tradition back to its roots in northern European many hundreds of years ago, and its spread throughout the continent and then onto the rest of the world. He notes that there isn't necessarily a consensus on what each element of the ceremony represents, but there are some good guesses:

The tree: Robinson points to scholarship indicating the tree is probably related to traditions of tree worship among northern European people centuries ago. (People used to affix branches to their houses as a sort of blessing.) The editor of the Ironworker Magazine told the New York Times in 1984 that there's evidence of trees being used in the topping out ceremonies of houses in Scandinavia as far back as 700 AD.

And the evergreen tree in particular was a notable symbol of life and vitality because of its ability to withstand the winter.

Here's a 1928 illustration by Rockwell Kent that probably depicts the tree tradition.

The American flag: Robinson traces this back to at least a century ago. And while it's not entirely clear, there are some indications that ironworkers started incorporating the American flag in the ceremony as a way of demonstrating their patriotism during a period in which there was rising sentiment that unions were somehow un-American.

The signed white beam: It's kind of like a painter signing a finished canvased. And painting the beam white made it easier to see the signatures.

The party: This is pretty self-explanatory. Though Robinson notes that there was also a tradition of celebrating the ceremony with alcohol a century or more ago -- building owners would reward workers for raising a structure (such as a barn) by giving them whiskey or rum. (Apparently there was a tradition that if the owner didn't pony up the booze, the workers would top the building with a broom instead of a tree.)

And, of course, the party/celebration aspect of the tradition also now serves as photo op and chance to attract media attention.

Comments

Ironworkers Local #12 did this work.

Say Something!

We'd really like you to take part in the conversation here at All Over Albany. But we do have a few rules here. Don't worry, they're easy. The first: be kind. The second: treat everyone else with the same respect you'd like to see in return. Cool? Great, post away. Comments are moderated so it might take a little while for your comment to show up. Thanks for being patient.

What's All Over Albany?

All Over Albany is for interested and interesting people in New York's Capital Region. In other words, it's for you. It's kind of like having a smart, savvy friend who can help you find out what's up. Oh, and our friends call us AOA.

Search

Recently on All Over Albany

Gawking at the new Schenectady train station

In a bit of a surprise the new Schenectady train station opened this past Wednesday, a few weeks ahead of the announced schedule. The $23... (more)

A little push up the hill

Wrapped into my update this past week about what it's been like to use a bike as one of my primary ways of getting around... (more)

A collection of castle day trips

This part of the country is dotted with castle-like structures, full of history, mystery, romance, and fairytale. Here's a handful of castles that are within... (more)

Classics of Science Fiction at The Linda

A multi-day get-together called Classics of Science Fiction will be at The Linda in Albany November 1-4. Blurbage: Guests include authors, artists, podcasters, cosplayers, business... (more)

Cuomo leads in Q-poll, NTSB still hasn't examined limo from deadly Schoharie crash, Schenectady and GE

Q-poll shows Cuomo with strong lead The latest Quinnipiac University poll shows Andrew Cuomo with a 23-percentage point lead over Republican challenger Marc Molinaro. [Spectrum]... (more)

Recent Comments

I ride every day to work, and also after work for exercise. I love the concept of being a person who happens to ride a bike. There's a level of bike riding, with the high performance gear and sleek clothing, that makes riding seem like its not for everyone. I try to avoid markers like that, and always wear regular clothing/shoes/backpack with dumpy-looking bike. One concession is bike gloves.

Gawking at the new Schenectady train station

...has 4 comments, most recently from Walter Clark

A collection of castle day trips

...has 1 comment, most recently from Jsc

A little push up the hill

...has 2 comments, most recently from Ryan H

Today's moment of mural

...has 3 comments, most recently from Rich

A year later I'm still using a bike to get around town -- here are a few thoughts about how that's worked out

...has 13 comments, most recently from Randal Putnam