Traditions Set in Paint & Mischief


For individuals and cities alike, "going green" on St. Patrick's Day is less of an environmental initiative and more of a literal challenge.

Thousands of revelers pony up to local watering holes to guzzle green beers, a handful of cities raise the bar by coloring more liquid than you could shake a keg at, and one Seattle man is posthumously praised for years of painting efforts that erred on the side of vandalism.

Laying O' the Green Stripe

In Seattle, the St. Patrick's Day celebration takes to the streets (well, one street) by pre-painting green road markings down the parade route—and it's all to honor the late John Doyle Bishop, quite possibly the only person who purposefully made it a tradition to get arrested every March 17.

The mini-parade, nicknamed "Laying O' the Green Stripe" and hosted by the Irish Heritage Club, lays a temporary spray-painted line along the middle of a downtown avenue.

The "tradition" was started by Bishop, a "self-admittedly outrageous" clothing designer and upscale store owner, who took it upon himself to paint a green line down Fifth Avenue every St. Patrick's Day eve for years in hopes of convincing the city to host a parade.

Bishop's choice of thick, hard-to-remove paint gave law enforcement a tradition of their own in waiting to arrest him each year.

Squad Car Waiting

A friend of Bishop's, John Costello, reminisced with the Seattle Times a few years ago about tagging along for one of the paint jobs.

"I'm sure we went to a bar first. I remember the green stripe not being very straight," Costello recalled.

"When we got to University Street, there was a squad car waiting for us."

According to Costello, Bishop insisted on being arrested for the media attention, calling it "a million dollars worth of publicity."

Seattle finally came around to hosting annual parades in 1972. Bishop died in 1980 at 67 and has since been honored at the city's St. Patrick's Day parades.

Chicago's 'Coca Cola' Secret

In other cities, St. Patrick's Day traditions don't have such felonious roots.

The Chicago River sparkles emerald green on the Saturday preceding St. Patrick's Day (March 14 this year) in a tradition that dates back over 50 years.

However, the dye's formula remains a closely guarded secret, "[j]ust like the recipe for Coca Cola."

This YouTube video, uploaded by user frootis, show a time-lapse look at this year's dyeing of the Chicago River.

"But seriously, the formula has been thoroughly tested by independent chemists and has been proven safe for the environment," says, the website for the parade committee, which is spearheaded by Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Local 130 U.A.

The entire river-dyeing tradition is an accident traced back to the plumbers, who used to use fluorescein dye to trace sources of illegal pollution discharges. That was back in 1961; fluorescein is no longer used for this purpose, as it is harmful to the river.

What the city will tell you is that the river is tinted with about 45 pounds of eco-friendly vegetable dye color, according to Choose Chicago, the city's tourism organization.

Leprechaun Luck

When the coloring first hits the water, it appears to have an orange-ish hue. But, "[t]hanks to a little leprechaun magic (or, well, science), the hue transforms and seeps in until the whole river is a bright, beautiful green," the tourism group says.

The color only lasts for about five hours, but it draws a crowd of about 400,000 people, the organization says.

(Chi-town also took advantage of a five-day span, from Friday, March 13 through Tuesday, March 17, to use its buildings, monuments and streets to defend its title as "GREENest City in the World.")

As the president and first lady are Chicago natives, the White House started celebrating St. Patrick's Day by dyeing its fountains green in 2009.

Green with River Envy

Why let Chicago have all the fun? Several other cities across the country have taken to celebrating the holiday by dyeing their water sources green, too.

Tampa has been getting its green on for four years by dyeing part of the Hillsborough River. Similar to the origins of Chicago's tradition, Tampa uses 250 pounds of an orange powder typically utilized for tracing leaks or used to send distress signals in water emergencies.

The product is said to be non-toxic and approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Meanwhile, Indianapolis got in on the tradition 19 years ago. The city pours 10 gallons of concentrated liquid dye into its downtown canal, USA Today reported.

"It doesn't hurt the fish," maintains John Bartholomew, a spokesman for the city department responsible for the canal.

While he doesn't know the exact brand, Bartholomew says all the dyes the city uses for the celebration are environmentally friendly.

The color lasts anywhere from two to four days, depending on if it rains.

In Savannah, GA, nine fountains spout green—a tradition started after a failed attempt to color a river in 1961.

Their process uses 35 pounds of "a dye that is gentle and can be easily cleaned and doesn't damage our historic fountains," Bret Bell, the city's director of media relations, told USA Today.


Tagged categories: Coating Application; Concrete dyes; EPA; Green design; North America; potable water; Roads/Highways; Stripe removal; Striping

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