Some traditions never die. Other traditions are unbelievable and make you go, "what?".

The first time someone told me about the Flight of the Angel, which has happened every year during the Fisherman's Feast in Boston's North End for 111 years, that's literally what I said.

Let me explain. During the finale of the annual Italian festival, a young girl dressed as an angel is hoisted up by rope, three stories high, 11-year-old Gianna Puccio of Medford told me.

“You go over the people and then they lower you down in front of the Madonna, and they do the trumpet. And then you say a speech at Italian,” Gianna said.

Gianna was selected as this year's Flying Angel by the Maritime Society after previously serving as what's called a side angel, basically a sidekick to the star of the show.

But it's not just about being the star — it's about tradition.

“I'm really excited to carry on the tradition because it's the longest-running feast in Boston,” Gianna said. “I've wanted to do it as soon as I found out the Fisherman's Feast was a thing. My ancestors, a lot of them were immigrants from Italy. If they were here, they'd probably be really proud of me. This will be the 112th year that the tradition has been going on. So I'm just really excited I get to be part of it because a lot of things don't go on for this long.”

Four men stand around an 11-year-old girl, who is lifted a few feet off the ground by a rope attached to a harness on her back.
Gianna Puccio, 11 of Medford, being lifted a few feet off the ground as practice for the Fisherman Feast's flight of the angel.
Jeremy Siegel GBH News

The Fisherman's Feast was started in Boston in 1910 by Roman Catholic immigrants from Sciacca, Italy, and it's based on a tradition that goes back to the 16th century. But the flight of the angel is unique to Boston, said Gianna's dad, Danny Puccio, a member of the Maritime Society.

“The angel ceremony has been going on since the beginning,” he said. “You have two side angels and they're both reciting a prayer to the Blessed Mother, on the left and on the right. At the end of their prayer, the Flying Angel comes out. She comes down and blesses the Blessed Mother with grace and lets her know that she is the holy one, and she's the mother of all mothers. And, you know, we bring the angel back up. The streets are filled with confetti and happiness.”

Gianna’s mom, Lina Puccio, said it gives her “chill bumps.”

“It’s incredible,” she said. “For me, it's just one of those kind of moments. And having my daughter do it is super, super — it's just a big deal to me.”

"My ancestors, a lot of them were immigrants from Italy. If they were here, they'd probably be really proud of me."
-Gianna Puccio, 11, of Medford

Now, you might be wondering, is this safe to have a young girl hoisted by a rope between two old apartment buildings, three stories high over a crowd of people?

Danny Puccio said he’s not worried. He helped put the rigging up himself.

“I mean, we're 111 and 0,” he said of the event’s safety track record. “So I'm pretty confident we'll be good.”

And Gianna herself? She's not scared at all.

“I love roller coasters and stuff like that,” she said.

I wanted to see for myself how all of this works. So I met up with the Puccios and a crew of Maritime Society members for a dry run of the flight of the angel.

A man connects a metal hook to a silver-colored carabiner attached to a harness on an 11-year-old girl's back.
Gianna Puccio, 11 of Medford, gets her safety harness attached to the rope that will hoist her three stories into the air during the Fisherman's Feast in the North End.
Jeremy Siegel GBH News

The process is pretty much as it was in 1910, said Michael Graffeo, the Maritime Society’s financial secretary who helps rig the ropes for the angel’s flight.

“We have a hook in one building, and we come out of an apartment, we have our apparatus inside of the apartment, which we are able to tighten up all of the tension on the rope, so the angel flies nice and straight outside,” he said.

After they have all the ropes hoisted in and tight, they strap Gianna in.

And it works. They don't bring Gianna all the way up during the dry run. That's saved for the main event. But they bring her a little off the ground. And she practices reciting the Ave Maria in Italian.

It's an amazing sight, and a somewhat surreal one: A neighborhood full of people whose families stood in the same place more than 100 years ago, smiling and clapping as they watch a kid get hoisted between two buildings by a single piece of rope.

A girl held up by a rope and harness, wearing a light blue cape and angel wings, floats over a large crowd of people near a statue of the Virgin Mary.
The Flight of the Angel caps off the North End Fisherman's Feast in 2019.
Maritime Society of our Lady of Perpetual Help of Sciacca Inc.

Come Sunday night during the finale of the feast, things will be a little different. There will be hundreds of people lining the streets, the smell of Italian food and confetti wafting through the air. And Gianna? She'll be three stories high at the center of it all, an experience that the last angel, Mia Graffeo, says is amazing.

“It's really fun. I once I did it, I was like, I want to do this again,” Mia said.

And Mia's advice for Gianna ahead of Sunday night?

“Don't look down,” she said.

Watch a segment about the flight of the angel from GBH's Zoom, which first aired in the 1970s.