Excrementitiously green without dye—the Chicago River

OMG, look what they do to the Chicago River every year.

What’s the deal with dyeing the Chicago River green every year for St. Patrick’s Day? I thought the picture was photoshopped at first, but Chicagoans actually do this annually, my fellow inebriates. WTF?

I mean really—WTF? Where did this idea come from? From a historical perspective, throwing dye in the river is almost as arbitrary as throwing partially treated poo into it. At what point did this sound like a good idea?

The story is told with unapologetic glee by Dan O’Leary, who equates the Chicago River’s yearly “spectacular transformation” with the parting of the Red Sea. In 1961, plumbing engineer Steve Bailey, in an effort to locate a waste line being emptied into the Chicago River, poured green dye into the waste system and then checked to see where the color would appear. Overjoyed by the change from murky, excrementitious green to vivid Leprechaun green, Bailey suggested the city dye the entire river green every year to commemorate St. Patrick’s Day. Strangely, the city went for it, and Bailey helmed the operation, pouring 100 pounds of fluorescent compound in the first year, then playing with the amount over the next two years until he arrived at 25 pounds, enough to make a “carpet of green” for one day.

With dye

Bailey thought this was awesome; he was passionate about St. Patrick’s Day and wanted to dye all kinds of things green. You’d think Chicagoans would have questioned what chemical was entering the water, but it took until 1966 for environmentalists to point out that the oil-based dye was harming aquatic life. This cracked Bailey up and, despite not giving a shit about that sort of bleeding-heart concern, he concocted a new vegetable-based dye. This concession may well have killed him, as he died that year. Then again, maybe he just ate a lot of Ulster fry-ups.

Without dye

The Chicago River is one of the filthier rivers, with an estimated 70 percent wastewater. Over a billion gallons of sewage is poured into it every day, begging the question: Isn’t it green enough? And if Chicago thinks it needs to be greener, why not actually “green” the river?

Although money is predictably tight, private companies such as the Wisconsin brewer Leinenkugel have stepped up to raise both cash and awareness through Friends of the Chicago River.

I’d never heard of Leinenkugel beer. Our Canadian government-run liquor stores don’t carry it, so I don’t imagine I’ll get the chance to try it. Thinking about Leinenkugel’s concern for clean water gives me…well, delirium tremens, if I’m being honest. I’d love a beer right now.

So what is Leinenkugel beer like? I wish I knew! Apparently they have a damn fine amber ale. Anyone care to write a guest review?

7 thoughts on “Excrementitiously green without dye—the Chicago River

  1. Spend a little time in Chicago and you’ll see just how apt the dying of the river is in that city. So much happens there that is 100% counterintuitive, this being a prime example.

  2. As someone from Illinois and claiming Scots-Irish ancestry, I can offer no reasonable explanation, other than: I guess one could say that on St. Padraig’s Day we just like to turn shit green.

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