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Slideshow: ‘Topping Out’ ceremony

The University of Missouri College of Engineering held a “Topping Out” ceremony March 14 to celebrate the final beam placed in the Lafferre Hall renovation.

  • Photo of onlookers at the Topping Out ceremony signing the beam with the tree affixed to it.
    Onlookers sign the last beam waiting to be placed atop Lafferre Hall. The tree affixed to the beam is part of the tradition to a Topping Out ceremony. Photo by Hannah Sturtecky

What is a ‘Topping Out’ ceremony?

Part of the tradition of a topping out ceremony involves a tree placed atop the final beam. The most widely cited story credits pre-Dark Age Scandinavian cultures, with the practice of placing a tree on the top of a new building to appease the tree dwelling spirits of their ancestors that had been displaced, or for cutting trees for lumber to ward off evil spirits.

In those days, everyone pitched in to help a farmer build a new house or barn. The community would contribute their labor until the ridgepole, the highest horizontal beam, was in place. At that point, to express his appreciation, the farmer would have a party for all his friends. An evergreen tree was placed on the highest point of the structure for good luck, and to indicate to all that the building was nearing completion and a celebration was in order. The practice migrated to England with Scandinavian invaders in the mid- to late-8th century and took root there.

Today, the topping out ceremony is celebrated around the world.

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