St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago would not be the same if the Chicago River was not colored green. Chicagoans can thank the legendary Mayor Richard J. Daley and his love of St. Patrick’s Day for this rich Chicago tradition.
A New Tradition Is Born
The story behind turning the river green is believed to originate in 1962
Some local plumbers mistakenly spilled green dye into the Chicago River
Mayor Richard Daley saw it and wanted to know if it could be done for St. Patrick’s Day
One Family Since 1962
At that time, a man named Tom Rowan was in charge of the river’s police boats. He immediately offered to dye the Chicago River, and the rest is history. Tom Rowan died in 2002. His brother, Thomas took over the reins, and Bob Rowan joined the team in 2005.
Bob Rowen states that his family practiced “a long time” to get it right. There were issues with getting the perfect shade without bright streaks. Now, they have the ideal fluorescent hue.
Nothing keeps the Rowan family from completing this tradition. Bob Rowen recalls that they have dyed the river in rainstorms, blizzards, and high winds.
“We did it one year when it was real windy, and the dye blew up onto Wacker Drive, so we ended up dyeing the entire South Side of Upper Wacker green. As I passed people on the street and saw green all over their faces, I was like, ‘we need to get out of here.’ It was pretty wild.”
Magical Leprechaun Dust
Turning the Chicago River green entails a two-hour boat trip up and down the Chicago River and connecting canals. The distance totals 156 miles. Sixty pounds of “Leprechaun Dust” is used. The recipe is a well-kept secret. However, the family is quick to note that the product is much healthier and more accessible than ever before. Fish, turtles, muskrats, and beavers inhabit the water and nearby land.
Others Have Tried, Few Have Succeeded!
The city of Savannah tried dying its river in 1961 but gave up after the dye became filtered in the fast tide. Instead, the city dyes several of its fountains.
Tampa uses 250 pounds of an orange powder called “Bright dyes.” It lasts for about 5 hours due to tide impact.
Indianapolis uses a concentrated liquid dye to color a downtown canal. They started this tradition in 1996. It can last for 2-4 days.
The Rowan family has been requested to visit as far as France and Dublin to color their rivers. In Dublin, they found the river so dirty, the impact of the dye was little.
Even The White House Got In On The Fun
During the Obama administration, the White House dyed the water in the fountain of the south lawn green on St. Patrick’s Day.