To the editor:
In the late 1960s, a group of children from the Fort neighborhood, guided by Sam Novello, owner of Ollevon Nets, were given the order to paint a bunch of oars and put certain fishing vessel names on them.
Our reward was that we would get to carry these oars in Sunday’s Fiesta Procession to St. Peter, and we jumped at the chance!
Thus began the celebration of our fishing fleet through what became known simply as the “Carrying of the Oars.” But we were just a small group of young kids who eventually got older and moved on to other ways of celebrating Fiesta (i.e. seine boat races or the Greasy Pole). As quickly as the oar carrying tradition began, it ended. Many of those original oars are now proudly displayed at the Cape Ann Museum.
Fast forward 30 odd years to 2002, and the tradition was revived after much hard work from many of those original carriers, including several painting parties at the Brancaleone home on Western Avenue.
For the last dozen years, a much bigger and better tradition has been re-established in the Fiesta procession. People of all ages now participate and display their family’s fishing heritage in the form of wonderfully decorated oars.
This “carrying of the oars” to honor our fleet happens in no other place in the world besides good old Gloucester. There are over 100 oars out there, which involves a lot of recruiting to be able to have enough carriers.
I am especially proud of the fantastic group of people who volunteered their services this year on a hot and humid Sunday morning to become a part of Fiesta tradition. They came from places one would never dream of. For example, two boys from Gloucester’s Marino family have been flying up from Florida the past two summers to carry oars representing boats that their family members fished on. The same goes for two teenagers who flew up from Texas. They had to leave their newly painted oars with us because they would not be allowed on their return flight.