July 15, 2007

Ithaca Celebrates Sundae Rivalry With Free 'Cherry Sundays'

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For the past year Ithaca, known and advertised as the home of the ice cream sundae, has had to compete for the title with Two Rivers, Wisc., also asserting itself to be the true home of the ice cream sundae.
To celebrate the claim, Ithaca is hosting a Sundae Dinner on July 18; the first 3,000 people get a free “Ithaca Cherry Sunday.”
“It’s the original ice cream sundae created here in 1892,” states the website of the Ithaca Downtown Partnership.
According to Ithaca’s version of the story, the very first sundae was invented 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.
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.”
The Downtown Partnerships’ dinner is only offering cherry sundaes; their website tells readers “if you want chocolate syrup, bring your own!”
The feud began in May 2006 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.”
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 picked up the story.
Fred Bonn, director of Ithaca Forward/Tompkins County Convention and Visitors Bureau, saw potential in the lighthearted battle between Ithaca and Two Rivers as a source of publicity.
“Media attention generated 20 million [online] views of Ithaca as it relates to the ice cream sundae, and it never hurts to have your name out there 20 million times,” Bonn said last year.
The words between these warring towns may have been heated, but the goal was mutual — strike up a simple, yet fun controversy and hope that it remains in the limelight.
“We did not anticipate this much media attention around the event, but the concept in its original form is merely a program that would drive additional restaurant tourism business,” Bonn said.
As for the sociological and economic incentives for this marketing ploy, Prof. Mabel Berezin, economic sociology, said last year, “It’s a good advertising gimmick. It is the kind of little sport that small towns engage in and then put the ice cream sundae on a brochure. It’s the kind of thing that draws attention to the Finger Lakes region as more people are starting to buy summer vacation homes in the area.”
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.
Buckley said 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.
“This may just be a mystery for the ages,” Buckley said. “If nothing else, we’ve had a lot of fun with it.”