St. Peter's Fiesta is a five-day festival honoring the patron saint of the fisherman, St. Peter. Hosted by the Italian American community of Gloucester, Massachusetts, the festival involves a carnival, seine boat races, and the Greasy Pole contest, and attracts people from all over.
The festival began in 1927 when a life-sized statue of St. Peter was enshrined by fishermen in the heart of Gloucester's Italian district. The fishermen and their families began to pray to their patron saint, and soon plans for a religious procession on June 29 came about. They grew into the festival it is today.
No festival was held from 1942–45, nor in 2020–21.
Greasy Pole contest
The Greasy Pole is a three-day competition where people, commonly males, attempt to cross a 40-foot wooden piling that is extended horizontally 30 feet above the cold water of the harbor. The pole is covered in bacon fat, Crisco, fish guts, and lard from local restaurants, and each contestant must try to retrieve the red flag attached at the end. The winner is carried through the streets of Gloucester and can drink for free at each public house stop along the route.
The Greasy Pole competition originated in Sicily in the 19th century or earlier, and was brought to Gloucester by the Italian immigrant population of fishermen in the early 20th century. The object is to walk across a greased pole protruding from a platform about 200 yards (180 m) from shore. This platform, depending on the tide, can be anywhere from 10–25 feet (3–8 m) above the water. The pole, which hangs over the water, is 45 feet (14 m) 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 people between ages 18–60 go out from Pavilion Beach in Gloucester MA during the St. Peter Fiesta, the last weekend of June. They walk the pole one at a time in a pre-determined order. Generally, these are males of Italian descent, although the walkers may include all nationalities. Because of the popularity of the event, there are strict rules as to who is eligible to walk on Sunday. The event is currently held on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 4:45 p.m.
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 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.
Generally speaking, the Greasy Pole is done for bragging rights. A trophy is given out to the winner, but in the close knit town of Gloucester where everyone knows each other, this is done for the right to say "I won." (free drinks all night at all the bars)
This is obviously a very risky event. Walking through an almost frictionless environment anywhere from 10–25 feet (3–8 m) over water on a very narrow pole can be dangerous. Several injuries, most of them minor, can and have occurred. These injuries can range from scrapes and bruises to broken facial bones or ribs from falling and landing on the pole. Police boats are nearby to assist if someone is seriously injured and needs to be taken to the hospital.
This section contains a list of miscellaneous information. (June 2018)
- The first winner of the Greasy Pole was Natale Misuraca. He died in 2011, and the new pole structure has a shrine to him at the point of departure for all walkers.
- The record for most Greasy Pole wins belongs to Salvi Benson (10): 4 Saturdays, 6 Sundays.
- Peter "Black" Frontiero won 7 straight Sunday contests between 1987–1993. Most Sunday wins, 9 over all and all on Super Sunday.
- Only 2 men have won all 3 days (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday). Jake Wood was the first in 1999 (6th round Friday, 3rd Sat, 2nd Sun). Jake started walking in 1998 he now has a total of 7 wins . The Friday Greasy Pole was implemented, 1999. In 2019 Derek Hopkins became the second man to win all 3 days taking the flag down in the 2nd round all 3 days in his first year of eligibility, 20 years after Jake Wood accomplished the first trifecta.
- Anthony "Matza" Giambanco is known as the "Sheriff of the Greasy Pole." 6 time champ. "Matza" famously walked and slid to the end of the pole, where he stood for a few seconds in triumph before jumping into the water with flag in hand.
- In 1979, one man grabbed the flag in the first round, breaking the Courtesy Round rule. Unfortunately, he incurred the wrath of Anthony "Matza" Giambanco. He promptly punched the man, nailed the flag to the pole, and the competition continued.
- Peter "Black" Frontiero is the only walker in the history of the competition to win in three different decades (1980s, 1990s and 2000s) and with three different announcers (Mike Deliberti, Big Tom Brancleone, and Sammy "Samutzu" Nicastro.
- Joseph "JoeyD" DaSilva is the first walker to ever win on sea and land ("the surf and turf champion") with his two wins (Friday Fiesta 2011 and Fall Classic Saturday 2011).
- For the 75th anniversary, in a big surprise to everyone, the announcer at the time (Sam Nicastro) was joined by his predecessors Big Tom Brancleone and Mike Dileberti for the announcing duties.
- Joseph "JoeyD" DaSilva holds the Guinness World Record for the fastest time to cross a 42-foot-long (13 m) pole at 4.96 seconds. He set the record on the set of "Guinness World Records Gone Wild" in Los Angeles, California July 6, 2012.
- The Greasy Pole was washed away, along with the platform that supported it, by a storm on September 30, 2011. As of March, 2012, it was being rebuilt and was expected to be ready for the 2012 event.
- Past Winners
1931 to 1998 (Before Friday Competition):
|Year||Saturday Winner||Sunday Winner|
|1931||Natale "Nat" Misuraca||Oritan Vincenzo|
|1932||Oritan Vincenzo||Oritan Vincenzo|
|1933||Geronimo Parisi||Geronimo Parisi|
|1934||Jimmy Sinagra||Dominic Grillo|
|1935||Natale "Nat" Misuraca||Not held|
|1936||No Record||Not held|
|1937||No Record||Not held|
|1938||Jerome Loicano||Not held|
|1939||Jerome Loicano||Salvatore Randazza|
|1941||Joe Marino||Joe Marino|
|1942||Jerome Loicano||Joseph Frontiero|
|1943||Joseph Verga||Peter Mione|
|1944||Joseph Argusso||Louie Linquata|
|1950||John Randazza||Jerome Liocano|
|1951||Gino Biondo||Louio Linquata|
|1952||Joseph Argrusso||Rained Out|
|1953||Tommy Misuraca||Tommy Misuraca|
|1954||Johny Quince||Tommy Misuraca|
|1955||Beanie Nicastro||Beanie Nicastro|
|1956||Carlo "Sleppy" Pallazolla||Carlo "Sleppy" Pallazolla|
|1958||John Frontiero||Mike Calomo|
|1959||Frank Catania||Phil Curcuru|
|1960||Phil Curcuru||Frank Benson|
|1961||Not held||Not held|
|1962||Not held||Not held|
|1963||Phil Cucuru||Phil Cucuru|
|1964||Salvatore Testaverde||Joe "Black" Frontiero|
|1965||Phil Parisi & Phil Cucuru||Phil Cucuru & "Uncle" Salvatore Russo|
|1966||Tom "Wolfman" Cavanaugh||Tom "Wolfman" Cavanaugh|
|1967||Salvi Benson||Vito Calamo|
|1968||Salvi Benson||Salvi Benson|
|1969||Salvi Benson||Gaetano Carini|
|1970||Gaetano Carini||Pat Palmisano|
|1971||Salvi Benson||Salvi Benson|
|1972||Tom "Wolfman" Cavanaugh||Salvi Benson|
|1973||Tom "Wolfman" Cavanaugh||Salvi Benson|
|1974||Tom "Wolfman" Cavanaugh||Salvi Benson|
|1975||Anthony "Matza" Giambanco||Anthony "Matza" Giambanco|
|1976||Gaetano Carini||Benny Interante|
|1977||Billy Mumbruno||Anthony "Matza" Giambanco|
|1978||Bobbi "Brother" Agostint||Anthony "Matza" Giambanco|
|1979||Joe Palmisano||Salvi Benson|
|1980||Paul Bertolini||Anthony "Matza" Giambanco|
|1981||Jerry Santuccio||Dom Verga|
|1982||Steve "Stubby" Asaro||Dom Verga|
|1983||Phil Verga||Jerry Santuccio|
|1984||Paul Nicastro||Peter "Black" Frontiero|
|1985||Tom Favazza||Dom Verga|
|1986||Jerry Ciolino||Scott Clayton|
|1987||Sam Frontiero||Peter "Black" Frontiero|
|1988||Anthony Saputo||Peter "Black" Frontiero|
|1989||Russell Hines||Peter "Black" Frontiero|
|1990||Johnny Corollo||Peter "Black" Frontiero|
|1991||Jerry Cusamano||Peter "Black" Frontiero|
|1992||Nico Brancaleone||Peter "Black" Frontiero|
|1993||Steve LaBlanc||Peter "Black" Frontiero|
|1994||Dave Foote||Steve LaBlanc|
|1995||Steve Gray||Chris Carlson|
|1996||John "Glass" Parisi||Rich Hopkins|
|1997||Shawn Porper||Rich Hopkins|
|1998||Jason Puglisi||Nino Sanfillippo|
1999 to Current (Friday Competition Introduced)
|Year||Friday Winner||Saturday Winner||Sunday Winner|
|1999||Jake Wood||Jake Wood||Jake Wood|
|2000||Dean DeCoste||Jude LaFavour||Sammo Frontiero|
|2001||Phil Palmatieri||James Sanfillipo||John "Glass" Parisi|
|2002||Sandi Palazzolo||Dean DeCoste||Jake Wood|
|2003||Steve Militello||Sandy Palazzolo||Jake Wood|
|2004||Stew McGillivray||Stew McGillivray||Peter "Black" Frontiero|
|2005||Vinny Parisi||Jimmy Silva||Jake Wood|
|2006||Danny Balbo Jr.||Vinny Parisi||Jake Wood|
|2007||Louis Perry||Joe Sanfillippo||Russell Hines|
|2008||Steve Williamson||John Church||Stew McGillivray|
|2009||Jason Favaloro||Joe Stelline||Stew McGillivray|
|2010||Joe Brancaleone Jr.||Peter Cannavo||Stew McGillivray|
|2011||Joseph "JoeyD" DaSilva||Kraig Hill||Ali D'Angelo|
|2012||Ross "Cliffy" Carlson||Nicky Avelis||Stew McGillivray|
|2013||Kyle Barry||Zack Allen||Nicky Avelis|
|2014||Jack Russ||Kyle Barry||Mark Allen|
|2015||Lenny Taormina||Joseph DaSilva||Jake Wagner|
|2016||Michael Sanfilippo||Lenny Taormina||Kyle Barry|
|2017||Randy Sweet||Randy Sweet||Jake Wagner|
|2018||Frank Taormina||Michael Sanfilippo||Randy Sweet|
|2019||Derek Hopkins||Derek Hopkins||Derek Hopkins|
|2020||Not held||Not held||Not held|
|2021||Not held||Not held||Not held|
|2022||Leo Cannavo||Anthony Novello||Derek Hopkins|
|2023||Colin Sweet||Steve Militello||Derek Hopkins|
The 2011 Greasy Pole Fall Classic
To help raise some of the money needed to replace the greasy pole platform that was damaged by tropical storm Irene, the Saint Peter's Fiesta Committee hosted the 2011 Greasy Pole Fall Classic at Gloucester High School's Newell Stadium. The competition featured three greasy poles, designated bronze, silver, and gold. This was expected to be the only Fall Classic, as the Greasy Pole is to be replaced with a platform that will last a century. The two time champ Joe DaSilva is the first person to ever win on sea and land, which earned him the nickname "Surf and Turf Champion." In 2012 Nick Avelis won Saturday's pole, and in 2013 Kyle Barry won Friday's pole, making all three "turf" champions "surf" champions as well (Avelis also won 2013 Sunday).
|2011||Gold||Joe "JoeyD" DaSilva|
In 2009, CoffeeBlack Productions — the Gloucester filmmaking team of Emile Doucette, Thomas Papows, and Michael Pallazola – created a short 7-minute documentary about the Greasy Pole and its cultural significance in the small fishing community of Gloucester, Massachusetts. The film won the Documentary Educational Resources Award at the International Documentary Challenge at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival. The group has plans to make a feature-length version of the film due out in 2010.
- "History of St. Peter's". www.stpetersfiesta.org. 2003. Retrieved 2018-07-01.
- 2023 Saturday Greasy Pole. Good Morning Gloucester. Retrieved June 28, 2023.
- Baker, Billy (2017-07-02). "GREASE and GLORY". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2017-07-03.
- Byrne, Matt (1 October 2011). "Gloucester icon slips into history". boston.com. Archived from the original on 2012-05-27. Retrieved 8 October 2011.
- Kaufman, Alexander C. (8 October 2011). "Gloucester to rebuild greasy pole". boston.com. Archived from the original on 2011-12-12. Retrieved 8 October 2011.
- Fletcher, Steven (17 March 2012). "Greasy Pole dock, platform rebuilt". Gloucester Times. Archived from the original on 2012-06-12. Retrieved 30 April 2012.
- "Past Greasy Pole Winners". www.stpetersfiesta.org. 2003.
- Staff, Times. "Greasy Pole Fall Classic proves to be a hit".
- Allen, Quinn (2009-05-14). "Trio brings home international prize » Local News » GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA". Gloucestertimes.com. Retrieved 2010-09-11.
- Documentary "Love and Grease" highlights history of Greasy Pole competition. Yahoo News. June 22, 2023. Retrieved June 28, 2023.