Every Massachusetts community has its own unique traditions, but Gloucester might have the most bizarre and wonderful of them all.
Each year, during the town’s renowned Saint Peter’s Fiesta, Gloucester men attempt to scramble across a 45-foot pole that is 200 yards from the shore in an effort to capture a flag flown at its end.
This might sound strange enough, but the real challenge for these intrepid fellows comes from the fact that the pole is literally greased with all manner of slippery, slimy and slick substances.
The grease can be just about anything, from Tabasco sauce to banana peels, grease or just plain old cooking oil.
Why are these men braving a 30-foot shimmy over a 15 to 25-foot drop into the harbor? For bragging rights, sure, but the tradition’s original purpose was to ensure the safety of Gloucester’s fishing fleet and encourage a good haul in the coming year.
The Greasy Pole tradition is imported from Italy, and the Gloucester event dates back to 1931. The ages of the men (women traditionally don’t participate) usually range from 18 to over 60 years old, and there are typically at least 40 of 50 fellows lined up to attempt the feat. Participants are also usually of Italian heritage, though there are no strict rules about that.
The journey over the Greasy Pole is by no means a safe expedition – falling 25 feet into the harbor has resulted in several injuries over the years, and police boats stand by to help out if anyone is seriously wounded.
The first winner of the Greasy Pole, Natale Misaruca, died in 2011. In his honor, a shrine was erected for him at the place where pole-walkers begin their attempt.
The festival and Greasy Pole competition draw HUGE crowds, and is definitely one of the most unique and entertaining traditions in Massachusetts.
Have you ever attended the Greasy Pole celebration? Have you ever ATTEMPTED the feat? Let us know!
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