St. Patrick’s Day in the Windy City is truly special, with 400,000 spectators drooling and gasping at the wonderous sight of the city river dyed green for a few hours.
The dyeing tradition started in 1962, but turning the river green wasn’t just done to commemorate St. Parick’s day. The practice originally started in the days of Mayor of Chicago, Richard J. Daley who wanted to get to the bottom of the source of sewage into the river. So to pinpoint the exact places where the waste was being injected, Daley’s administration poured special green dye into the river that helped them located the dumping outlet.
In 1961, Stephen Bailey, who was part of the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Local organisation and the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade chairman, got another idea from this streaking process. Why not turn all of the river green and celebrate the occasion in grand style?
Three months later the city poured 100 pounds of the chemical green dye into the water; which turned the entire river green for a week, much to the amusement of the locals and the tourists. After the successful practice, the dye was poured in for many years by the Plumbers Local, but not everyone was amused at the practice.
The dye was found out to be an oil-based fluorescein that stirred the ire of many environmentalists as they found it to be damaging the river even more. So after fierce lobbying, the parade organisers changed the composition of the dye to a powdered, vegetable-based dye.
The exact formula for the organic orange powder which turns the river green is kept top-secret, and in 2003 one of the parade organisers quipped that revealing the formula would be like “telling where the leprechaun hides its gold”.
The city administration starts the dyeing process at 9:15 a.m. on the morning of the parade on a Saturday each year, and six members of the local Plumbers Union use a vessel and a boat to make the magic happen.
The vessel carries three members of the crew who use flour sifters to spread the dye, and the smaller boat helps in dispersing the substance. The process takes about 45 minutes to complete which keeps the Chicago River green for about five hours.
Have you ever witnessed the amazing sight? Share your experience below!