July 12, 2012

The Greasy Pole: Proof of the Evolution of Mankind

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St. Peter's Fiesta in Gloucester, MA


A few weekends ago Sarah and I went with a few friends to Gloucester's (pronounced Gloss-Ster for my non-New-England friends) annual "St. Peter's Fiesta." This is a five-day festival honoring the patron saint of the fisherman St. Peter. Or, as it is more commonly/loosely translated, "an excuse to drink lots of cheap beer and ride old carnival rides." I've lived in Massachusetts for a number of years now, so I must admit I was slightly embarrassed that this was my first Fiesta experience. Let's just say it did not disappoint. Here's a video from the 2011 Fiesta.


Heeding the advice of a few Gloucesterite friends of ours, we arrived early so as not to miss a minute of the festivities. After eating some Labonese bread, drinking a bottle of water or two (it was about 95 degrees) and playing a carnival game--which Sarah won--we made our way to the beach for the pole ceremonies.
Sarah won a Bear at the Fiesta
 I know many of you are looking forward to the Olympics this summer in London.  Well, what we witnessed contained all the honor, prestige and heritage of the Olympics. PLUS incredibly intoxicated men dressed in drag.  Lets see Usain Bolt run 200 meters in a dress...

Truly a special, special event
Here's the basic gist of the event; taken, of course, from Wikipedia.

The object is to walk across a greased pole protruding from a platform about 200 ft from shore. This platform, depending on the tide, can be anywhere from 10–25 ft above the water. The pole, which hangs over the water, is 45 feet long, and only about as wide as a standard telephone pole. This pole is then heavily greased with biodegradable axle grease mixed with anything from Tabasco sauce to oil, banana peels, and various other slippery objects. A red flag (or sometimes the Italian Flag with a red flag underneath it) is then nailed to the very end of the pole. The idea is to run out on the heavily greased pole and try to grab the flag before slipping and falling into the water. About 40 or 50 men between age 18–60 go out from Pavilion Beach in Gloucester MA during the St. Peter Fiesta, the last weekend of June. 

Courtesy Round
The first round of the Greasy Pole is dubbed as the "Courtesy Round." This is done so that all the walkers get a chance to walk the pole. Generally, this is used to get a feel for exactly how greasy the pole really is. Some of the more experienced walkers only walk out a small distance and then dive off the pole into the water to save themselves from injury. Once all the walkers participating have walked, the second round begins. After the courtesy round is over, the flag can come down at any time. There are three days in which the Greasy Pole is competed:

Fiesta Friday

Most of the newcomers to the Greasy Pole event walk on Friday. The winner of the Friday Greasy Pole will walk first on Saturday.

Fiesta Saturday

People who began walking before Greasy Pole Friday was implemented in 1999 or people who have won on Greasy Pole Friday walk on Saturday. The winner of Saturday then will walk first on Sunday.

Fiesta Sunday

Also referred to as Championship Sunday. The winner of Saturday walks first, and on the platform are the former Saturday and Sunday champions of the Greasy Pole from years past and protégés of the former champions who can no longer walk because they have died or can no longer walk for health reasons. Winning on Fiesta Sunday is the most prestigious honor that a Greasy Pole walker can achieve, and every year they return to walk on Fiesta Sunday.


Winner 

As you can see, this is a pretty special occasion. After attending my first ever Greasy Pole competition, I couldn't help but think that all those evolutionist may be right. I mean, clearly mankind is progressing with a competition like this. Seriously, they now use biodegradable grease for the pole! If you live anywhere near Gloucester you have got to go at least once. And in the event that you do decide to go on a Sunday, conveniently there is even a pop-up church right next to the carnival games. It's like they thought of everything...

Church on the go...   

 But it's not just a festival. No, the Greasy Pole has now taken on iconic status. There is a musical based on the competition, a breakfast special named "The Greasy Pole" at a local diner (Sugar Magnolias), and Gloucester now selects its mayor based on who wins the Greasy Pole (two of these things are true).

The musical

The food

It would be easy to chalk this up as another weird New England tradition. And it is. But consider this, the only way to inherit the throne of England is to be of royal blood. The only way to walk the pole on Championship Sunday is to either win it on Friday or Saturday or be a relative of a former winner.

So basically, this guy

Greasy Pole participant = royalty


Isn't really that different from this guy...

Royalty





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