Green Day—It’s Time To Raise A Toast To An Emerald Nautical Tradition

Green Chicago River

Green Chicago River

My bartender friend Marshall Murphy is fond of most holidays. Alas, Saint Patrick’s Day is not one of them. And more often than not, the luck of the Irish doesn’t extend to his work schedule. The celebration of all things green (including beer) coincidentally falls on his regular shift tonight.

Marshall says Saint Patrick’s Day is like Christmas for Chicago bartenders, but a really, really bad Christmas where people lose control of their manners and senses.

The closest I came to experiencing the bad craziness accompanying Saint Patrick’s Day was last weekend’s annual spectacle of dyeing the Chicago River green. On Saturday morning, I perched in my traditional spot on an overlook at Columbus and Lower Wacker Drive. It’s an ideal vantage point to photograph the greening of the river. Hint: get there about 45 minutes early and you can claim a coveted spot at the rail.

If not an engineering miracle, the dyeing process is definitely impressive. In just a few passes, a compact speedboat carrying a crew of plumbers (representing Local 130) drops their payload—40 pounds of nontoxic vegetable dye—and voila! The river changes from a sludgy brown to a bright neon green. The hue is remarkably similar to the relish on a Chicago hotdog.

Since 1962, the Chicago River has received the dye job. It originated as a practical solution to a problem: the color was just right to help determine leaks into the river from plumbing.

Plumbers Local Dyeing the Chicago River Green

Plumbers Local 130 Dyeing the Chicago River Green

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at

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