St. Patrick’s Day Tradition of Dyeing the Chicago River Green

Every year, on the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago, the river that runs through the heart of the city is dyed green. Hundreds of thousands of people turn out to witness the yearly phenomenon which lasts four to five hours.

The tradition started in the early 1960s when then-mayor Richard Daley wanted to clean up the sewer-like river for a riverfront beautification project. Crews from a local plumbing company poured chemicals in the water which turned in green where pollutants were being dumped into the river. Stephen Baily, the chairman of the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, happened to see one of these men in his once-white, now-green overalls, and the idea was born.

The first year the river was greened up, the men poured in 100 pounds of chemicals. It turned green alright – for five days. Now, about forty pounds of a top-secret orange powder is added to the river. It’s much more environmentally friendly.

Members of the Rowan and Butler families are responsible for the feat and have been for over fifty years. Four of them will go out in one boat about 9:00 on the morning of the parade and pour the powder out the back. Two more family members follow in another boat in order to churn up the water and turn it the chartreuse green.

Now that’s a St. Patrick’s Day tradition. Do you have any traditions for the holiday?

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