By Susan DeLay
Irish lore is laced with tales of magical leprechauns who dress in green suits, buckled shoes and who smoke pipes. (Elite elves positioned at top of the food chain even bake magically delicious cookies in tree trunks in the forest. But they’re a rare breed.)
Leprechauns are rather fond of gold and the ROYGBIV palette which is why they hide their treasure at the end of a rainbow. Supposedly, if you’re lucky enough to capture one of these mischievous little elves, he is bound by folklore law to grant his captor three wishes. Because you’d have a better shot at winning the Irish Sweepstakes, or the Mega Millions lottery, be smart and use each wish to ask for a pot of gold.
While leprechauns tend to confine themselves to the Emerald Isle, once a year, they board an Aer Lingus flight and venture across the Atlantic to the United States.
Next Stop, Chicago
Rumor has it on St. Patrick’s Day, a contingent of leprechauns press their suits, polish their shoes, buff their buckles, pack up their pipes, and make a pilgrimage to Chicago. At around 10 a.m. (Central) on March 17, they gather in pubs near Upper Wacker Drive to nurse pints of Guinness Stout and admire Chicago’s emerald-green river.
The Big Dye
Dyeing the river green is an annual event for Chicagoland that’s been going on since 1962. That’s when Plumber’s Union 130 stirred leprechaun dust into the river and used a boat, christened the Mixmaster, to stir it into the water, turning it a shade of neon green. To be honest, it’s vegetable powder, not leprechaun dust. But as every writer worth their weight in RGB ink knows, facts should never get in the way of a good story.
Two local families have been behind the big dye every year and they have the green tears and stained green fingernails to prove it. They know better than anyone what it means to be part of the wearin’ o’ the green.
Sssh. Top Secret Recipe
The recipe for the dye is top secret, as closely guarded as Colonel Sander’s 11-herbs and spices chicken recipe and Coca-Cola’s formula for America’s most popular soft drink. Environmentalists have protested use of the green dye, saying it kills fish, frogs and water lilies—everything but algae and gators, but that’s only because algae is already green and gators rarely hang out in the Windy City. The truth is, the dye is no more dangerous than a bucket of KFC or a 2-liter bottle of Coke. (Hmmm. I sense something is wrong with that theory.)
The yearly event is so popular that up to 50,000 tourists and locals have been known to trek to the Loop to take selfies with the phosphorescent green river. The pictures eventually end up on Instagram, Tiktok and Facebook for all the world to see.
The Year the Green Turned Blue
St. Patrick’s Day and the big River Dye were cancelled in 2020 since the illness that shall not be named shut things down. That was the year Chi-town residents celebrated the holiday by staying home, dressing in green t-shirts, watching TV and eating mint chocolate chip ice cream.
Never let it be said that true blue (or green) Chicagoans don’t know how to party, even when they’re quarantined.
Susan DeLay is from the Buckeye State where she took her first paying job at the age of 15, writing a newspaper column called Teen Talk. She lived in the Chicagoland area for 20-some years before giving away her shovel and ice scraper and moving to The Villages.
An industry veteran in publishing services, PR and media relations, Susan wrote “DeLayed Reaction,” a newspaper column, for 25 years. The column is now a blog at susandelay.com. Susan is a member of American Society of Journalists and Authors, The Florida Writers Association, Writers League of the Villages, Working Writers Critique Group and Pen, Paper & Pals. She is currently learning that poems don’t have to rhyme and is working on a novel entitled “Saving Jesus.”