Beyond the Fold: March 15

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Pulse - Come on Home, Green River

We'll come right out and say it: Someone should dye the Scioto River green annually on March 17, just like they do in Chicago.

When I contacted the Shamrock Club about why they've never done it, Vice President Mark Dempsey gave me a simple answer: He doesn't know how.

He told me that he and another member had tried to do it 10 years ago to bolster the other festivities sponsored by the Shamrocks. The two were all set to buy the chemical and test it out - they just didn't know which one to use because Chicago wouldn't tell him. (The city guards its secrets very carefully.)

"So if there's a scientist out there who's familiar with it, please call me," he said hopefully at one point.

Then a weird coincidence happened, when I told him the story of how the dyeing process began in the Windy City.

To combat pollution of the Chicago River in the '60s, the local plumbers union began testing buildings along it with a biodegradable indicator dye. One plumber would put it in a building's water system; another would see if green fluids came gushing out.

Soon, a plumber with green-stained overalls came to pay his dues at the office of the Chicago Journeyman Plumbers Union, which had sponsored the St. Patrick's Day parade since 1957. A union official saw the emerald color and realized that using more of the dye to color the river would be a great way to celebrate the city's Irish roots.

This is what a dictionary would call "serendipity."

Dempsey said that our conversation might be a form of "divine intervention." He is slated to become president of the Shamrock Club in May... at a banquet sponsored by the Columbus Plumbers and Pipe-Fitters Union. He thinks they might be the ones to finally help him unlock the secret of the substance.

As a reporter, I'm always wary of making news, rather than reporting it.

But the editorial staff up here really thinks that a green river would draw attention to both Downtown and the riverfront district. If an emerald Scioto appears in 2008, I will feel a bit of pride, knowing that I might have started the ball rolling this year.

Either way, it's interesting to understand why such an event never happens in Columbus. It's such a fan favorite just a few hundred miles west, and the government sources I contacted had few reservations to the practice.

Judging it alongside the others in our St. Patrick's Day spread, this story was a good complement to the music preview, the bar story and other features. It was nice to tackle a topic that looked beyond an event to the hidden questions surrounding it.

I'm coming up on my one-year anniversary on Saturday, and I feel this story is one of the best I've written this year.

Personally, I want to hear what people think about plans to dye the river, so please email any comments or questions to