A Warm Welcome to the Hill
On the James J. Hill Center Historic Library tours, we always like to stop for a moment under the chandelier in the lobby to give a warm welcome. Why there? Granted, it’s right inside the main entrance—but also because of what you see when you look up.
Historic architecture and décor from the Victorian era and Gilded Age in Western Europe are filled with symbols. Various animals, flora, and crests were common. There is one such symbol in our entryway that welcomes our visitors: a pineapple.
Why does a pineapple symbolize welcome and hospitality? There are a few variations on the history, but all tie into the complex narrative of colonization. When European explorers traveled to the Americas, they “discovered” many things that were new to them, including types of fresh fruit.
Some sources state that native peoples would place pineapples at the entrance of their homes or villages to indicate that the Europeans were welcome, and this tradition was taken back to Europe in the form of carving pineapples into entryways.
Another legend tells of how sailors would bring pineapples back from their journeys and place them on a fencepost outside their house to indicate that they made it home safe. When their friends and family saw the pineapple, they knew they could go in and welcome their loved one home and hear of their travels.
All sources acknowledge the influence of the wealthy. Christopher Columbus generally gets the credit for introducing pineapples to Europe, bringing them from the Caribbean to Spain in the 15th century.
The delicious pineapple was, naturally, very desirable by Europeans and Euro-Americans—but expensive and difficult to obtain in Europe and the North American colonies. They couldn’t be cultivated in Europe’s climate, and would often spoil during the long journey across the ocean, making this mainstay of Caribbean and South American indigenous cultures a status symbol abroad. Some European and Euro-American families would even rent a pineapple to display at their parties.
Eventually this transformed from being a sign of wealth and power to a sign of hospitality. The thought was, if your host had a pineapple at their party, that meant they spared no expense at the benefit of their guests. From there, they begun to get incorporated into architecture and décor, often stylized the same way as the Hill’s pineapple, which often gets mistaken for an acorn, artichoke, or even a hop!
Let us (and our pineapple) welcome you to the Hill Center sometime soon. To learn more about our historic building and furnishings, join us on one of our public tours.
Written by Ann Mayhew, Reference & Support Specialist, at the James J. Hill Center. If you have more questions about the reference library our our historic collection at the James J. Hill Center please contact 651-265-5500 or [email protected].