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History of “topping out” during building construction

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (June 16, 2004) – “Topping out the Aquarium’s structure is an important and visible milestone for this project,” said Roger Conley, project manager of Turner Universal Construction Company. “We’re on schedule for completion and within budget. We can attribute our success to the talented tradesmen and women in Chattanooga. These individuals are out there everyday, in all conditions. Many of them even helped build the original Aquarium.”

According to ancient history, the success or failure of man’s building ventures was usually attributed to the gods he worshipped rather than to the skill of the builder. To appease the spirits, sacrifices were offered by builders to exorcise the evil spirits who might have taken residence in the building’s framework during construction.

Around A.D. 700, the practice in the Scandinavian countries was for all the neighbors to aid in the construction work up to and including the installation of a building’s ridgepole. When the ridgepole was finally in place, an evergreen tree was attached to it as a signal for the beginning of a completion party. This practice is believed to be descended from the ancient belief in the benign influence of the tree-inhabiting spirits.

In later times, it was customary to fasten a sheaf of corn to the gable. The corn was believed to serve as food for Woden’s horse and as a charm against lightning. In more recent times, garlands of flowers or sheaves of corn were duplicated in wood, stone or terra cotta on Gothic buildings. Such agrarian decoration is perhaps a survival of the ancient custom.

Today, when the structural steel framework of a building is near completion, a tree or often a flag is hoisted to the top of the structure. Ironworkers who, of course, deny they are superstitious, say it brings good luck.

The topping out ceremony for the Tennessee Aquarium’s Ocean Journey building will include a tropical tree that will serve as a symbol of good luck, heralding the living collection of fish, turtles, birds, plants and trees that will thrive, fly and dive beneath the two new peaks of the Ocean Journey building.


The Turner Corporation, through Turner Construction Company, Turner Universal and other construction subsidiaries, is the leading general builder in the U.S., ranking first or second in the major segments of the building construction field. During 2003, The Turner Corporation, based in Dallas, Tex., completed $6.1 billion of construction. Turner is the only builder offering clients a network of 45 offices across the U.S. For more information, visit Turner's Web site at

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