September 5, 2006

Ithaca, Two Rivers Square Off Over Sundae Origin

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Ithaca, known and advertised as the home of the ice cream sundae, now must compete for the title with Two Rivers, Wis., also asserting itself to be the true home of the ice cream sundae.
The feud began in May when Ithaca contacted Two Rivers, telling them of their promotion to donate over 70 tubs of ice cream to local restaurants, advertising Ithaca as the home of the ice cream sundae. Ithaca had wanted to know if Two Rivers cared to engage in a lighthearted battle, in which the two towns would debate which place was actually the original creator of the ice cream treat.
“It sounded to us like they were challenging our honor,” said Greg Buckley, city manager of Two Rivers.
Pranks followed soon after: Buckley admitted to dropping off an inflatable cow at Mayor Carolyn Peterson’s office in Ithaca as well as handing out postcards to Two Rivers residents to mail to her. Postcards mostly involved playful mockery; some even included the humorous poem: “Sundaes are sweet, they give you the shivers. Remember they started right here in Two Rivers.”
What began as harmless banter stayed harmless banter. However, the feud ended up receiving national news coverage, making it to USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, CBS and the New York Times. Peterson said that over 200 news outlets have picked up the story.
Regardless of media attention, it seems that both towns have benefited from the dispute. “Everything in life is so serious, and this is so much fun,” said Heather Lane, co-owner of Purity Ice Cream in Ithaca. Lane also describes the exchange as “total fun banter.” “[The Two Rivers residents] were just a hoot — they were great.”
But when asked seriously who really is the originator of the ice cream sundae, it appears that both sides are firm about their position. According to Ithaca’s version of the story, the very first sundae was invented in 1891 at Platt & Colt Pharmacy and consisted of vanilla ice cream with cherry sauce and a cherry on top. The creator called it a “Cherry Sunday” and even ran advertisements in the Ithaca Journal for the treat.
This documentation in the form of a newspaper advertisement is Ithaca’s main reason for asserting their position.
“No other community, I understand, has the verification like we do,” Peterson said.
Buckley responded: “Well that’s fine: you can claim to be the home of newspaper advertisements.”
Two Rivers, on the other hand, claims that the very first sundae was a chocolate sundae, invented by Edward Berner in 1881, 10 years before Ithaca claims the sundae even existed. Ice cream was combined with chocolate syrup and sold for five cents on Sundays. To support the claim, the Chicago Tribune ran an article when Berner died in 1939 headlined “Man Who Made First Ice Cream Sundae Is Dead.” Buckley also stated that oral history and documentation point to the fact that Two Rivers received much recognition as the originators of the treat during Berner’s time.
“Two Rivers has been claiming this for a long time. Ithaca is kind of a latecomer,” he said.
Buckley said that the Wisconsin Historical Society is continuing to do research on the topic. However, as of now, there are no definitive plans to resolve the issue and choose a winner.
“This may just be a mystery for the ages,” Buckley said. “If nothing else, we’ve had a lot of fun with it.”
Lane agreed, stating that she hopes to continue this for years to come.