Dig This With Deb

A column to tell people about the building process written by Deb Blanchard


One of the benefits of having a construction project is the whole new vocabulary you are now learning each day.  My least favorite new phrase is ‘change order’ and one that I really like is ‘topping off celebration’.

We will be having a very informal topping off celebration on April 5th at 11 a.m. at the Main Street library location.  Anyone who wants to come and watch is welcome.  We will gather along Island Street to cheer the last steel beam as it is hoisted into place.  The reason for celebration is that the topping off ceremony marks the midway point of construction – a true milestone in the project.  We are halfway there folks!  It is also to show our gratitude and respect for the D.A.Sullivan workers who have done such a fine job laying in the foundation and the work done to date.  They have had some really unpleasant weather and conditions to deal with this winter so they deserve our appreciation.

Some of you may wonder, as I did, what are the origins of a topping off event.  This cherished custom involves not only the raising of the last steel beam, but also lifting an evergreen tree along with an American flag up to the top of the structure.  In my research it seems that every ceremony means different things to different places and people.  It can be a good luck charm, warding off evil spirits to the new building, that the work went without a loss of life or symbolizing that the building has reached its tallest height.

No one seems to know about the first topping off but the earliest I found it mentioned was 621 B.C. when the Romans threw people into the Tiber River as sacrifices to the Gods upon the completion of the Pons Sublicus bridge.  Luckily that tradition was replaced around 700 A.D. when Scandinavians wanted to placate the tree spirits for taking down trees to use as lumber and lifted a tree to the top of the structure.  Throughout history there is mention of other cultures using sheaves of grain, tree boughs or plants imbued with ‘good spirits’.

It is believed that immigrant Norwegian iron workers brought the custom to America.  An alternative legend says that the ceremony started in America when cities began constructing high rise buildings and American Indians were employed as construction workers.  These men felt that no man made building should be taller than a tree so to alleviate the issue, a tree was placed at the uppermost beam in the structure.

Before the crane lifts the last beam into place, the workers sign their names.  Since so many others have contributed to our library being built, the general contractor Dennis Sullivan allowed us to have the last beam brought to the library so that library staff, Trustees, Committee members and the citizens of Athol can also pen their name into posterity.  So during a torrential rainstorm, Site Supervisor Toby Brown and Dave Socha from Dublin Steel in New Hampshire (our steel fabricator) brought down the freshly painted steel beam to the children’s library for all to sign.  Everyone is welcome to come in, see the beam and sign.  Then whenever you look at our beautiful facility in the future, you will know that your name is there waiting for future generations who may do renovations to find. 


PHOTO: Members of the Library Construction Committee were the first to ink their names onto the beam. Pictured (L to R) are: Tony Brighenti, Charlie Winters, Joe Hawkins and George Roix.