Updated 1:40 p.m.
Philly has a thing for climbing poles covered with grease.
The world was introduced to the proclivity earlier this year. In advance of the Eagles’ NFC Championship win, Philly Police greased streetlight poles with Crisco to prevent celebratory climbers. It didn’t really work.
After all, Philadelphians get plenty of opportunity to practice. Each spring, one of the main attractions at the annual 9th Street Italian Market Festival is a grease pole climbing contest.
This weekend, the tradition will look a little different: Teams competing to climb the 30-foot mast at the Ninth and Montrose piazza will have to deal with double the pig fat.
Yes, organizers are purposely planning to double the grease.
“We’re going to be serious about the larding,” said Michele Gambino, the festival’s business director. “We are going to extra-lard the pole because there’s been so much attention.”
Overall, there’s been tons more interest in the contest this year, Gambino said. She’s gotten way more phone calls and outreach via social media than usual, which she attributes almost entirely to the Super Bowl victory.
If you’re thinking of giving it a go, know that despite the increased attention, the registration date hasn’t changed. People will still have to wait until actual fest on May 19 and 20 to sign up in person the Visitor Center at 919 S. Ninth St. (Pre-print the registration form here.)
Along with the extra-larding, there will likely be a couple more changes.
For one, the contest will take place twice, starting at noon on each of the festival’s two days (it previously only happened on one).
Gambino is also hoping to place an Eagles flag at the top of the pole, which participants will have to grab and bring back down to the bottom to win. The logistics of that are still being worked out, but she’s optimistic it’ll happen, she said.
Officially dubbed the Alberto della Cuccagna, the grease pole contest allows people to sign up in teams of eight to 12 people. The winning team usually scores local meats, cheeses, gifts and sometimes money — plus bragging rights for an entire year.
It’s been around since 1973, with the exception of a nearly 20-year hiatus starting in 1997. That break can be attributed to some unfortunate construction. When the city repaved the piazza, it also removed the pole and paved over the hole where it once stood. When the tradition returned in 2016, it came with some new assets: a liability waiver, an 18-plus age limit, gymnastics landing mats and breathalyzers.
In the past, Gambino has seen about 100 people attempt the grease pole each time around. This year, she expects even more. For those of you trying it out for the first time, Gambino has a few tips:
- Don’t wear your favorite outfit (“You can’t get that out of your clothes”)
- Bring towels
- Get a strong person to act as your “base”
- Think of a strategy before you start
“We want people to come out and have a sense of community, have a lot of fun,” Gambino said. “And we want a lot of Eagles chants.”