Hundreds of people came together this weekend to celebrate a hallowed Philadelphia tradition: watching people shimmy up a lard-greased pole for fame and fortune (where fortune is defined as gift cards for olive oil and cannoli).
The annual 9th Street Italian Market Festival offered plenty of other attractions. Sunday was again crowded, despite dense humidity that made the temperature feel like over 100 degrees. Stalls offering food, drink, jewelry, candles, and art were full for a second day in a row.
But the heart of the event was the piazza at 9th and Montrose streets, where a 30-foot grease pole stood ready and glistening, beckoning all who’d brave the challenge.
A constant crowd of curious onlookers formed around the space, and some snapped selfies with the infamous mast.
In the blistering heat, only one team volunteered to brave the climb.
The group attempted the climb several times throughout the day in order to reach the top and grab an envelope with the prize inside. Possible prizes included gift cards to the Italian Market, Termini Bros, Cardenas Oil & Vinegar Taproom, and cash, among others.
One of the climbers was Frankie Longo, a 17-year-old first-timer who came with his dad, Frank Longo, a veteran climber and lifelong South Philadelphian.
“That’s how old I was when I first did it,” the elder Longo said, as he reflected on the roots of the event, which he called a Sicilian tradition revived here in the 1970s.
South Philadelphian Mike Watson, came across the festival by chance. Intrigued by the good food and drink, he and a friend stumbled upon the greased pole competition.
“It’s pretty hilarious — these dudes are legit,” said Watson. “I didn’t know what to expect out of it, but it’s impressive what they’re able to do.”
Asked if he would try, he declined, but called the participants trying on Sunday pros.
“I have a lotta respect for these guys — we were having flashbacks of the Super Bowl greased poles,” Watson said. “But these guys are a lot more sophisticated with their strategy.”
Scroll down for more pics from the event.