Every June in Gloucester, Massachusetts, the Italian American community holds the St. Peter’s Fiesta in homage to the patron saint of fishermen. For those connected, it’s a deeply religious ceremony. For spectators, it’s a carnival with unique sporting events such as the Greasy Pole. (A forty-five-foot telephone pole horizontally attached to a raised platform, extending over the water. The pole is heavily greased and a stick with a red flag is attached at the far end.) Participants, often intoxicated, in ridiculous outfits take turns trying to walk the pole, intent on reaching the flag and claiming glory. The only thing more outrageous than the outfits, are the falls, in which broken bones are a commonality.
Of the thousands of people who watch the events, outside observers may view them as magnificent spectacle, but to those involved, there is a deep understanding of heritage and honor for what they do. The sports are tailored to embody the toughest aspects and skillsets utilized by historical fishermen. Walking the Greasy Pole is akin to walking the slick spreader of a ship’s mast.