If you ever have the opportunity to be in my hometown of Chicago for St. Patrick’s Day, you must witness the dying of the Chicago River (don’t worry – it does not harm the water). The beautiful emerald green only lasts a few hours, so be sure to get there early!
Interestingly, this tradition dates back to a time when the river was, indeed, quite polluted. Back in the late 1950s, Mayor Daley envisioned riverfront development – but needed a clean waterway if that plan ever had a chance to become reality. Daley authorized the use of a special dye that would make it possible to find out who was doing the polluting, and pinpoint the ingress.
The dye happened to be green.
One of the city’s journeyman plumbers, who also happened to be the St. Patrick’s Day parade chairman, got to thinking about that….and by the early 1960s a tradition was born. Within a span of just a few years, the city transitioned from chemical to environmentally friendly vegetable-based dye – which is what continues to be used today.
And 60 years later, that dream of riverfront development is a reality. The Chicago Riverwalk was officially completed in 2015, featuring 1.25 miles of pathway along the main branch of the river, with restaurants, gardens, kayak rentals, and easy access to boat tours. While parts of the river have been accessible to pedestrians for many years, the whole thing is now interconnected – and spectacular.