A Sunday Afternoon at the Greasy Pole Contest

I'm in Gloucester in Cape Ann on the north shore of Boston where I come every summer. This year I've made it in time for the Greasy Pole Contest, an extravaganza that is well worth seeing. I grab my camera and head to Gloucester Harbor where I know, if the weather cooperates, I'll get good photos of the locals participating in the annual event.


As I approach the harbor, I start to see throngs of people populating the waterfront, jockeying for good vantage points to see the contest. The pole comes into view which is surrounded by many small boats with people vying for a closer field of vision. I cruise up and down the beach front and find the perfect spot to watch and photograph the action.

The Greasy Pole Contest occurs every year during the St. Peter's Fiesta in Gloucester. This event originated in Sicily in the 19th century and was brought to the area by the large population of Italian immigrants who were fishermen in the early 20th century.

During the last weekend of June each year, 40-50 men of Italian descent compete by attempting to walk down a greased wooden pole in the middle of Gloucester Harbor. The pole extends horizontally from a platform that is situated 200 feet off shore. The size of a telephone pole, this object is 10-25 feet above the water and is heavily saturated with biodegradable axle grease. The contestants are between the ages of 18-60, and they take turns attempting to traverse the pole upright to the end. The goal is to capture a red flag nailed to the end before capsizing into the cold waters of Gloucester Harbor. This is a 3-day event that starts on Friday and culminates on Championship Sunday, in which surviving contestants compete with past champions or their proteges.

It's time for the next contestant. He inches out on to the greasy pole, arms spread widely for balance.

I can see that he is starting to get a little shaky as he progresses slowly along the pole. The red flag is a long way off!

He is starting to waver. This is the telltale sign that he will soon be in the ocean!


I'll have to say, having experienced the water temperature at nearby Good Harbor Beach many times over the last 30 years, you never know what you are going to get. Sometimes it is not too bad...just cold. However, sometimes my feet go numb as soon as I step in. From what I know, each one of these pole jockeys has consumed a fair amount of beer before making their excursions, which attenuates the shock of submerging in the harbor.

At this point I put my camera away. I've got all the photos I need to write my story. I'll have to say, the Greasy Pole Contest is a great tradition in Gloucester. I look forward to checking this out again next year.