Years ago, when I was growing up in Gloucester, the Blessing of the Fleet was a major event. The harbor was full of fishing boats, hundreds of them, waiting to be blessed by the Bishop. This year the only ships in the harbor were already gathering around the Greasy Pole, vying for the best spots to watch the event. Not a single fishing vessel was on hand for the Blessing. There weren't many people there this year, a sad sign of the times regarding America's Oldest Seaport. The tradition of the Blessing began in the mid 1940's. The Blessing takes place in front of the Fisherman at the Wheel Statue at 3pm on Fiesta Sunday. Hopefully St. Peter, the patron Saint of Fisherman, is still watching over the emaciated fleet, it's in need of a miracle.
I was baptized, went to CCD, received First Communion and Confirmation at St. Ann's in Gloucester. My first funerals were also here. My father went to school here as well. Viewers of "The Perfect Storm" will recognize St. Ann's as the location of the wake held for the fisherman at the end of the film. There's something very comforting about St. Ann's to me, for obvious reasons. I haven't been back often since moving from Gloucester, only for a few Midnight Masses on Christmas Eve, but this church will always be a part of me, and me part of it. Worshipers can attend Saturday Vigil during the winter months at 4pm and Sunday mass at 8am or 10am.
An annual tradition in Gloucester that dates back to the 1920's. Held every year on the 3rd of July at 6pm, The Fishtown Horrible's Parade is a greatly anticipated event for the residents of Cape Ann. The parade features businesses, marching bands, musical floats, armed forces, police, fire and most importantly families and children. The route starts at Gloucester High School, takes a right onto Centennial Ave, a left onto Stacy Boulevard, then follows the Boulevard to Rogers Street, onto Manuel Lewis Road, Main Street, Pleasant Street, Prospect Street, Railroad Avenue, Washington Avenue, and then a left onto Centennial Ave, back to the high school. There are several categories of trophies awarded to outstanding floats. They include: Grand Theme, Best Business and Industry, Best Civic and Community, Best Religious and Fraternal, Best Neighborhood, Best Musical, Most Creative Float, Most Outstanding Horrible, and Best Horribles. Fireworks follow the parade at 10 PM and can best be viewed from Stacy Boulevard and Stage Fort Park. Or better yet, by boat in Gloucester Harbor.
The annual garden tour in Gloucester offers a fabulous way to see many "behind the scenes" views of the town ... not usually seen by the tourist or passerby. We made it a day trip and wished we could have spent another day to savor the beauty...or even complete the tour. So much to see, we had to skip a few of the sites.
The tour convenes at the Sargent House Museum where you pick up your tour book which describes the location of each garden as well as the landscape and specialty items featured. The map they include wasn't meant for people from out of town, so I would suggest a good local map in addition. Many of the gardens are tucked on tiny roadways where two cars can barely pass one another. As many times as I have been in and around Gloucester, this tour opened another whole image of the city for me. I highly recommend taking the opportunity of doing a garden tour or historic house tour in order to really get to know a city.
Gloucester has developed into a thriving town by coalescing communities of farmers, fishermen and retailers or various ethnic backgrounds. These neighborhoods are still active today.
Annisquam... seacoast area directly north of Gloucester, on route 127
Bay View... halfway between Annisquam and Lanesville
Lanesville... seacoast area in route 127, northeast of Gloucester
Riverdale(Riverview)... between the river and Mill Pond
West Gloucester.... west of Gloucester on routes 128 and 133
The Bible tells us that Jesus entrusted the keys of his church to St. Peter. He became the Catholic Church's first Pope and the Basilica in Vatican City, the center of Catholicism here on Earth, bares his name. He is also the Patron Saint of the fisherman, which is why the community of Gloucester celebrates his Feast Day each Spring.
St. Peter's Fiesta starts the Thursday closest to June 29th each year and centers around a life size statue of the Saint. This fishing town sets aside four days to honor it's Patron Saint, starting with a dance on Thursday night, and the opening of the Fiesta.
The hallmark of the Fiesta is the Greasy Pole Contest, which in recent years has expanded to begin on Friday night, with contests on Saturday and Sunday as well. Many Italian-Americans are familiar with a greasy pole contest, usually with the pole standing straight up where contestants must scurry up the pole. In the island city of Gloucester it's done a bit differently. A platform sits in Gloucester Harbor, which contestants must swim to before walking on the pole, covered with grease, horizontal to the ocean. At the end are flags, which Gloucester's young men venture to obtain. The first round is considered a courtesy round, no one is permitted to grab the flag so that all contestants have a chance to run. After that it's every man for himself.
Also on Saturday and Sunday are the Seine Boat Races, where three crews (maning the Nina, Pina and Santa Maria of course) race out into the harbor and back again.
Sunday is the center of religious events for the Fiesta with a Mass and Blessing of the Fleet conducted by the Cardinal of Massachusetts and a religious procession which brings the Statue of Saint Peter around the city for everyone to see. Throughout the four days there is also a small carnival type event, complete with rides, games and cotton candy. The Fiesta wraps up with a fire works celebration over the Harbor and the Statue of St. Peter being returned to it's shrine.
They say New Englanders are "Cold", but if you stop and nicely ask someone for directions or advise, it is always willingly given. I find that even a simple thing like "Would you suggest a really nice or unique restaurant in the area?", will get you a few good places to go.
Ask about any hidden jewels, like a park or garden to see in the area also... a lot of people are happy to help.
The last weekend of June (or thereabouts) is the time when the Italian families of Gloucester celebrate St. Peter's Fiesta. Commencing with a novena to St. Peter (nine days of prayer to the patron saint of fishermen), the Fiesta ends with a lively carnival featuring seine boat races, the 'Greasy Pole' contest (a tradition apparently imported from Sicily: local men compete by balancing themselves walking to the end of a grease-covered telephone pole positioned over the ocean to capture a flag; most people fall off and it hurts when you hit the water), spectacular fireworks, a parade which loops throughout the inner city, and the Blessing of the Fleet (usually by Cardinal Law, but he wasn't invited this year). Residents of Gloucester are sharply divided on the merits of the Fiesta, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. Some people say it has lost its solemn religious focus and turned into a scaled-down version of Bourbon Street or Bike Week. Yes, it's true that the burly nightclub bouncers on Rogers Street now wear Mardi Gras beads during Fiesta, that long rows of Harleys are parked in formation throughout the festivities, Dixieland jazz bands can be heard in addition to the traditional Italian musicians, and Budweiser has become a corporate sponsor and dubbed itself the 'Official Beer of the Fiesta.' Still, don't let that fool you, because Gloucester is a very traditional town which resists change with a vengeance. The Italian fishing families that began the procession of the statue of St. Peter have stayed true to their roots. As the statue makes its way around Fort Square, those who are honored to be chosen as 'carriers' repeatedly chant a call-and-response Italian phrase which translates into 'What, are we all mute?' to which the crowd replies 'Viva San Pietro!' Despite the nightly revelry, no one seems forgotten about St. Peter. It's next to impossible to get a hotel room in Gloucester during Fiesta weekend, so be sure to book many months in advance if you want to join in the celebration!
Folks in Gloucester love chatting on local message boards about community affairs and town talk. Visit CapeAnnOnline at http://pub95.ezboard.com/bcapeannonline or VirtualCapeAnn at http://www.jimedia.com/cgi-jimedia/ikonboard/ikonboard.cgi to get up to speed before your visit!
Many people visit Gloucester, fall in love with the scenery, and decide to relocate. They don't look before they leap and have problems once they pack up and move here. Housing costs have become exorbitant and most locals are working more than one job to pay their mortgage or rent costs. Wages are disproportionately low in relation to basic living expenses. Don't say you weren't warned!
Statuary and special walkways.... a favorite flower...bricks and stone...all wonderful in the Gloucester area.
River stones, tiny succulents, bricks, blue stone, sun light and shade....the combinations are endless....the creativity of the walkways abounds in Gloucester gardens.