Events Chicago’s Green River

Published on March 17th, 2017 | by Michelle Roper-Shaw

The Tale of Chicago’s Green River

All over the world, St Patrick’s Day celebrations are taking place today. But, one place in particular has an unusual way of celebrating. In Chicago the river turns green.

Every year in Chicago, the Chicago River is dyed green the Saturday before St Patrick’s Day. Over 400,000 spectators go down to the river bank to witness the emerald green river spectacle.

This incredible tradition has its origins in something quite distasteful. Richard J. Daley became the mayor of Chicago in 1955 and was keen to develop Chicago’s riverfront. However, there was a rather inconvenient and unpleasant snag. The city had a major sewage and pollution problem. In order to find out the cause of the issue, a green dye was added to certain parts of the river to see where the sewage was being dumped.

In 1961, the city’s St Patrick’s Day Parade chairman had an idea. Could the whole of the river be turned green?

Therefore, the following year in March 1962, 100 pounds of the green coloured chemical was poured into the river for St Patrick’s Day. It remained green for a whole week and a new tradition began.

The original green dye chemical is no longer used due to environmental concerns raised in the late 1960s. Today, a powdered vegetable based dye is used, which is actually orange until it is mixed with water.

How the River Turns Green?

On the Saturday before St Patrick’s Day six members of the Plumbers Union get aboard two boats. The larger of the two boats heads out first and three of the crew use flour sifters to spread the dye into the river. A smaller boat then follows to disperse the dye.

Forty-five minutes later the Chicago River is a resplendent in emerald green. Whereas fifty years ago the colour remained for a week, it now only lasts for around five hours.

This tradition is now known across the world. In 2009, Michelle Obama, who is from Chicago, even asked for the White House fountains to be dyed green for St Patrick’s Day.

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Chicago City

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