Bottoming Out Spaceship Earth

Bottoming Out Spaceship Earth

In the April, 1982, EPCOT Center Construction News, there’s an interesting article on bottoming out Spaceship Earth. Wait: bottoming out?

Do you know what bottoming out is?

Traditionally, construction crews erect an evergreen tree or branch high atop a building when they have bolted in the structural steel at the highest point. That works just fine…when you have normal construction … which is to say, working from the ground up. But what about when you work from the top down?

That was the task facing ironworkers attaching the Alucobond triangular panels to the outside of Spaceship Earth they had to start at the top and work down and under the geosphere’s belly. When completed, the last panel would be only 15 feet off the ground.

A topping out ceremony at 15 feet just didn’t sound right, so the crew decided on a “bottoming out” ceremony!

On Monday morning, April 12, Spaceship Earth’s last panel was put in place by ironworkers with Allstate Erectors, the subcontractor responsible for the huge geosphere’s exterior work.

And yes, tradition was upheld there were both a flag and an evergreen tree present at the bottoming out ceremony, along with plenty of handshakes and back slaps.

Topping Out Traditional Ceremony

Covering the “bottoming out” ceremony at Spaceship Earth raised an interesting question … exactly how did the topping out ceremony come about?

According to several old timers and some research at the Orlando Public Library, we can now tell you the story behind that evergreen branch high atop most buildings under construction.

Around 700 A.D., the Scandinavians started the tradition of “topping out.” At that time, there was no construction industry and when a newcomer moved into an area, his new neighbors rallied around to help him build his house. The last part of the main structure is the ridgepole (the main cross beam of the roof) and after this was in place, it was presumed that the new neighbor could finish the rest of the building by himself.

The newcomer couldn’t, however, send his neighbors home without some sort of reward, so he threw a party for them. This was the original “topping out party.”

Since it wasn’t always convenient to have the party at the same time the ridgepole was put in place, a small pine tree or pine branch was placed at the highest point of the house to symbolize the ridgepole.

This tradition was brought to the United States by the many immigrants from Europe. The tradition also spread to many other parts of Europe where there were some substitutions … a wreath in Germany and bull’s horns in France (to keep the evil spirits away).

Here in the United States, the tradition is upheld by placing an evergreen tree or branch at the highest point in the structure, usually along with a party or ceremony. Topping out usually occurs about one third of the way through construction.

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