Tag Archives: irish

Chicago River: It’s Not Always Greener on the Other Side

By: Dana Ragazinskas

Green River (Not the soda)

It’s March, which is a busy month for Chicagoans. Not only did we celebrate our city’s 174th birthday, we also celebrated Mardi Gras and Paczki Day as well. If all that celebrating wasn’t enough for you, don’t worry there’s more. Hello St. Patrick’s Day! It’s on March 17th, so mark your calendars if you haven’t done so already.

St. Patrick’s Day is a big deal in Chicago, and in my opinion, it seems like we take this holiday way more seriously than any other one. Which brings the statement “Go Big or Go Home” to a whole new level. Of course we have the St. Patrick’s Day parade, but I don’t think the parade is as cool as all the bars serving green beer and turning the river into the brightest shade of green you’ll ever see. I don’t know about you, but large crowds, long waits, cold weather, and trying to see a parade over a crowd of people isn’t my cup of tea. I usually take a pass on going to the parade and watch it on television from the comfort of my own home. I’d rather watch the parade on TV, throw on a green shirt, and head out with some friends to enjoy a glass of green beer.

Dying our river green every year is pretty unconventional, yet a tradition us locals live by. If you haven’t seen the river when it’s green, I’m sure you’ve heard all about it. But the big question is how the heck do they do it? So I did a little research on the topic, and this is what I found. It all started back in 1962 with Stephen M. Bailey, a business manager of the Chicago Plumber Union. Stephen M. Bailey came up with the idea of turning the river green after finding out that one of the plumbers used bright green dye to detect if any waste lines were leaking into the river’s edge. The river had never been dyed green before, so the amount of dye needed to be used was unknown.

The first year they used 100 lbs of dye, and the river ended up being green for weeks! So the next year they cut the amount of dye down to 50 lbs, and the river was green for three days. Finally they decided to use 25 lbs of dye, which became the perfect amount, leaving the river green for one day. After complaints about the dye being hazardous to the water life, they now use 40lbs of a unique combination of vegetable dyes that leaves the river green for only four or five hours. A boat comes along pouring the dye into the river, followed by a few motor boats to help stir up and blend the color in. The weirdest part of the whole process is that the dye starts out as a bright shade of orange powder, but when it hits the water, it suddenly changes to a bright green. Today, the process of dying the river green is done by Mike Butler and his so called “river crew.”

"River Crew" in Action

The coolest part about the whole thing is that Chicago is the only city that has been successful at doing this, and we’re still the only place that does. I haven’t gotten the chance to see all this for myself, so I think this year I’m going to head down there and get in on all the action. This year they will be turning the river green on Saturday March 12th, starting at 10am. The best place to view “the dying of the river” will be between Columbus and Wabash. So make your way down there and check it out, and then maybe afterwards you can grab a few green beers to top off the day. Want to know how they make green beer? Green food coloring (you’re welcome).

So the moral of the story is avoid the parade, buy an Irish related shirt (if you’re not Irish, pretend), go see the river (impress a few bystanders with your new found knowledge), and drink green beer. Have a happy and safe St. Patrick’s Day!

Photo Credit: For more check out this website!