Life on the Corner: The Fisherman’s Feast

North Street decorated for the Fisherman’s Feast in 1929

In a few weeks the Society of the Madonna del Soccorso di Sciacca will host the annual Fisherman’s Feast. This will be the 106th year the feast will be held and I believe this is the oldest continuous feast in the North End. It’s also my favorite feast not only because I grew up practically next door to the fishermen’s club on Lewis St. but because it epitomizes all the wonderful characteristics of the Sicilian people, their warmth, friendliness, love of family and church and devotion to tradition.

Most of the fishermen who emigrated to the North End in the late 19th century came from the small fishing town of Sciacca. Their ancestors had been fishermen for hundreds of years and they easily applied their maritime skills to the new world. At first they fished from one or two man dories. They would row out beyond the Boston light before dawn and long line for fish with tub trawls, baiting each hook separately and retrieving the lines several hours later. On a good day they would get a few hundred pounds of fish and row back to “T” wharf to offload. It was hard, backbreaking work.

We used to watch the old fishermen on Eastern Packet Pier set the hooks around the rims of their tubs getting ready for the next days trip. Later we would collect discarded hooks and lengths of twine. We tied the pieces of twine together, baited the hooks with gurry and caught crabs off one of the wharfs. A great way to spend a summer day for a ten year old.

As a group the Sicilian fishermen were the bravest and toughest men I have ever known. They would risk their lives every day to put fresh fish on the tables of Boston. Once my uncle introduced me to Tony Ponzo a massive bear of a fisherman. When I shook his hand it was like touching iron, so hard were his callouses.

I’m sharing two pictures today. The first is from 1929 and depicts North Street at the corner of Fleet St. There were no other notes on the picture but it appears to show North St. decorated for the Fishermen’s Feast. You can see the bandstand on the left and the lights strung across the street. Erecting the lights and bandstand was a special skill and for years the Matarazzo family did almost all the feast lights. The designs were spectacular and would take several days to erect.

The second picture was given to me by my friend Joe Guarino, the former president of the Society, whose family helped start the Fisherman’s Feast. It depicts the founding members of the society in 1910. Old North Enders will recognize many of the names, Bono, Catanzaro, Ciulla, Marino and many others. The grandchildren and great grandchildren of those founding members are still involved in the feast and some still live in the North End.

We’re lucky to still have the North End feasts. At times they can be noisy and traffic is a problem but I think they are an important neighborhood tradition. Years ago the city was talking about moving the feasts to the Puopolo Park on Commercial Street but that plan went nowhere. There is something urban and gritty about having street festivals. You won’t find them in Hingham or Wellesley and that’s why I still live in the North End.

Founding Members of Fisherman’s Club in 2010

12 Replies to “Life on the Corner: The Fisherman’s Feast

  1. Nick. I agree that the Feasts are an important neighborhood tradition.i meet people sometimes that I haven’t seen in years and the Feasts bring back many memories of my childhood & growing up here. VIVA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Love these photos both my maternal and paternal grandfathers are in this picture,and an uncle the feast is the bond that so many share ,I was an angel and again this year my beautiful granddaughter ava bonavita will be an angel we are very proud of our heritage thank you Nick for photos and your memories which many of us share. Marie catamaran trovato

  3. Love the pictures, and, you are so right only in the North End can one find the fun and comraderie that are the feast of the North End known around the World.

  4. Thanks again, Nickie, I so enjoy your articles. My grandfather’s name is on this list Saverio Marino, my mother’s father. My father and uncles ( both sides) were fishermen. I remember the men sitting on our roof, yes 3 Lewis Street, with tubs, hooks, and ropes working on their nets.

    1. They were a great bunch of guys, Connie. I loved listening to your uncle, Lulu. What great stories he had about fishing from small boats and the dangers they faced on the Banks.
      I have a picture of him holding up a twenty six pound lobster they dragged up from George’s Bank. My father cooked it in the tavern and used four big pots, one for each claw, one for the tail and the last one for the body. He boiled linguine in a fifth pot and made lobster fra diavolo for everyone. The meat was tender and delicious. We had to use a hammer to crack open the claws.

    2. I was looking for the Polci name. I remember going up to Fleet Street during the feast with my grandmother. Gaetana Polci Garofalo, and see Auntie Anna and all the cousins

  5. My last name is on that list as well, and I think the Feasts are very important. Also would it be even be possible to move the feasts to Puopolo park and what would go on ? Thank god that “plan” didn’t go through.

  6. Hi my name is Vida Red LoPiccolo, i lived on the corner of North and Lewis. My grandparents were Tony Blackie Ciuffo and Lily Ciuffo. We have lived in the North End all our lives and my mother use to help the club members who were watching the Saint all night by providing them with coffee and sandwiches, We also provided the stands with electricty for 4 days so they can sell ballons and toys. I miss the Heart of the North End because of all the past members, but I will always have my memories

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