Dyeing to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

1By: Trever McKenzie ~Copy Editor~

Photo courtesy of Choose Chicago website | Hundreds of people clad in traditional Irish colors of green, white and orange gather around the freshly dyed Chicago River to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

Chicago is a city with many famous tourist attractions and a large cultural background, but one tradition may go unnoticed by unfamiliar tourists: The annual dyeing of the Chicago River for St. Patrick’s Day.

Each year two boats carrying members of the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Union (CJPC) rocket across the Chicago river. The first boat drops in an environmentally-friendly vegetable dye, an orange powder that becomes a deep, vivid green when it hits the water. More than 40 pounds of powder are dumped into the river.

The second boat follows up and makes sure the dye gets spread throughout the rest of the river. On the shores, more than a million Chicagoans, tourists and onlookers cheer and marvel at the beautiful green waves crashing in the wake of the boats.

The dyeing tradition began in the early days of Richard J. Daley’s time as mayor. In an attempt to locate the source of sewage outflow plaguing the Chicago River at the time, Daley ordered the CJPC to use a green dye to determine the specific locations that produced the sewage.

In 1962, Stephen Bailey, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade chairman and a member of the CJPC, noticed that a coworker’s overalls were green from a day spent distributing the dye. He reasoned that the dye could be used on the river itself to turn it completely green.

The first attempt didn’t go well – the river stayed green for almost a week. Subsequent attempts reduced the amount of dye until the river only stayed green for a day. However, environmentalists began to lobby against the use of the dye, saying that it would cause more damage to the river. This prompted a switch to the vegetable dye in 1966. Now, the river only stays green for around five hours, but the sheer number of people who attend the event indicates that five hours is just long enough to witness this spectacle.

Following the dyeing of the river, a large parade passes through the streets of Chicago, with onlookers celebrating, reveling and drinking to their heart’s content. If you wish to join in the celebration next year, head to Columbus Drive in Chicago and be prepared to witness an awesome shamrock surprise. It’s definitely a sight worth seeing.