There are lots of traditions in the construction trades and probably most of them come from the romance of the iron workers. These high-wire daredevils, who assemble the steel skeletons of high-rise construction, consider themselves the top of the social order of the building trades. Everyone is familiar with the “Christmas tree” rite, in which an evergreen sapling is hoisted to the top of a steel frame structure as a signal that its frame has been topped out by the steel erectors.
In another custom, everyone involved in a construction endeavor signs the last and highest steel girder just before it is hoisted and bolted into place. This latter convention has the advantage of being permanent, and it allows all the workers to feel like they have left their personal mark on the structure.
The RSA Tower was essentially a concrete frame building, but its top two floors and the pyramid shaped roof were steel framed. Perhaps three levels of structural iron 21 floors above the street were not enough to inspire the steel erectors to have a ceremony, but morale on the job was so poor that HH&N was wont to seize any opportunity they could to improve the project esprit de corps. Thus with great fanfare they ordered the final high beam cleaned up and painted a gleaming white, and their project manager invited one and all to affix a momento to the steel.
I recall that there was almost a hundred names on the honored beam when the tower crane carried it to the top in mid-May of 1995. From the photo below, you can see that yours truly signed, and that just below my mark is that of Judy Kaiser, PH&J’s bookkeeper during those years. She signed because she processed all the contractors’ pay requests. Just below Judy’s signature is that of Lendon Whitlow. Poor Lendon. He was one of the few genuine iron workers assigned to the Tower job, and from his exuberant signature you can surmise that he was a rare breed–confident, happy and outgoing. But of his mortal existence on this earth, Lendon had but 30 days left.
-Charles Humphries (“Peril and Intrigue Within Architecture”)