polo hat and scarf set How the Chicago River is dyed green
By Kori Rumore and Rick Tuma, Chicago Tribune Graphics
WHERE IT HAPPENS The Chicago River is dyed green the Saturday before each St. Patrick’s Day unless the holiday falls on a Saturday, which it does this year. The dyeing process takes place between Wabash Avenue and Columbus Drive. Spectators can watch the boats from both sides of the river between these bridges.
HOW IT BEGAN Mayor Richard J. Daley is credited not only with reviving Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, but also proposing the idea of greening part of Lake Michigan to celebrate the holiday. It was his boyhood friend and Chicago Plumbers Union business manager Stephen M. Bailey who suggested dyeing the Chicago River instead. Everyone wears clothes and shoes they don’t mind getting dirty and a white paper smock over their clothes.
On the water: The crew hops aboard two small motorboats donated by volunteers. The larger boat, at approximately 18 feet, has a crew of four. The smaller boat, a 12 footer, has two people.
Kitchen secret: Three men use flour sifters to dump about 40 pounds of an environmentally friendly orange powder into the river. The fourth drives the boat. The formula for the powder, which turns the water bright green when it hits, is top secret.
Powder spread: The smaller boat “chases” the larger boat and churns up the water, which helps disperse the powder across the river. Traveling the river between Wabash Avenue and Columbus Drive, the large boat snakes across the waterway dumping powder.
Green sheen: It takes about 45 minutes for the river to turn completely green. Depending on which direction the wind is blowing, the water can stay green for up to a few days.
Sources: As told to the Chicago Tribune by Tom Rowan and Michael Butler, whose families have been involved in dyeing the Chicago River since 1962, Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, Choose Chicago, Tribune archives.