CHICAGO — The Chicago River is green again.
After announcing earlier this month that the river wouldn’t be dyed green for St. Patrick’s Day for a second straight year, the river was dyed Kelly green after all early Saturday morning.
The announcement was made last minute to prevent crowds from gathering on the riverfront with coronavirus restrictions still in place. Mayor Lori Lightfoot was on the boat dyeing the river Saturday, posing for photos with Irish parade queens.
Since 1962, the dyeing of the river has been a tradition, started by representatives of Journeymen Plumbers Local Union 130. The dyeing takes place between Columbus Drive and State Street and usually keeps the normally murky river bright, Kelly green for a couple of days.
Although the exact concoction remains a closely guarded secret, it is vegetable based and only requires about 40 pounds of powdered dye, spread by two to three motorboats — one with the dye and one or two to churn the water, according to Thrillist.
Each year, typically thousands of spectators line the bridges and riverwalk to catch a glimpse of the bright green waters.
Arpi Long and her daughter looked out their window this morning to see the river dyed green. They grabbed their holiday gear, texted a few neighbors and rushed to see it.
“And as soon as I saw this we put our beads on, put our little hats on and came out here,” Long said.
Long was disappointed last year when the River wasn’t dyed, and the sentiments surely uplifted with today’s surprise.
“It was a sense of hope that COVID is getting to be officially over, hopefully,” Long said.
The idea was spawned by Stephen Bailey, who was the union’s business manager in the early ’60s and thought the dye, originally used to trace leaks in buildings, would be a nice way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.
Last week, city officials said this year’s dyeing of the river was canceled, but later they decided to let the tradition continue as a surprise to Chicagoans, according to a city source.
“…While the typical event did not take place as it has in other years, traditions are important, and the City still partnered with the Chicago Plumbers Union Local 130 to honor long-standing tradition by dyeing the Chicago River green,” Lightfoot’s office said in a statement. “In order to minimize crowds and avoid congregating, the City opted not to publicize this ahead of time, and the dyeing took place earlier than the traditional Saturday morning event. Furthermore, the Riverwalk will be closed on Saturday and Chicagoans looking to see the River during the day are urged to ‘keep it moving’ and celebrate safely and responsibly.”
Both the downtown parade, usually held the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day, and the city’s Southside Irish Parade are canceled.
Last week, Chicago’s Liquor Commissioner Shannon Trotter told bars and restaurants they must keep a lid on crowds or risk being shut down.
Trotter sent a list of rules to bar owners to stress the importance of following state and city COVID-19 rules on what is typically a busy holiday weekend. Under current guidelines, bars and restaurants are limited to 50 percent capacity or 50 people per room, whichever is fewer, and tables, including those outdoors, must be spaced 6 feet apart with no more than six people per table.
If they are found to be operating over capacity limits, bars “will be closed and cited and will face license discipline,” Trotter wrote in the letter.
She also specifically warned against “dancing or other congregating,” saying everyone must remain seated. People must also wear masks, except when “actively” eating or drinking.
When asked how she felt about the river dyeing, Lightfoot was succinct Saturday: “Good.”
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