Ice Cream Sundae - History and Legends of the Ice Cream Sundae
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Two cities lay claim to creating the original ice cream sundae:
A little background history:
Some historians claim, but never proven to be true, that the name "sundae" was created in response to the "Blue Laws" which said that ice cream sodas could not be sold on Sundays because they were to "frilly." For some reason the "righteous" very much against what they called "sucking soda" (especially on the Sabbath and the clergy started preaching against them). The dish has gone by other names at various time, most notably "sundi" and "sondhi." Some accounts have explained all these names as attempts to avoid offending the sensibilities of the devoutly religious, which might take a dim view of a pile of ice cream and syrup being named after the Sabbath.
The biggest rivalry is between Two Rivers, Wisconsin and Ithaca, New York. This dispute dates back from the 1970s with letters and barbs between the mayors of these cities. This is definitely serious business and a matter of pride for these towns. The two cities have sparred in a good-natured "Sundae War" for several decades.
H. L. Mencken (1880-1956), famed newspaper columnist, political commentator, and essayist, in his 1945 book, The American Language: Supplement 1, while writing on the suffix "DAE" as in sundae, wrote that the "most plausible of their theories ascribes the introduction of the 'sundae' itself to George Hallauer of Marshall, Illinois, and the invention of its name to George Giffy of Manitowoc, Wisconsin." Mencken version was so well received that some sources still cite it as a possible etymological source for the word "sundae." Mencken claimed Wisconsin sundae origins predated all others. Mencken's name and the plausibility of his stories have kept them alive, and still believed by many, to this day. Mencken was just reporting something that had been told in Two Rivers (and elsewhere) for decades prior to his book.
True or False? Author Michael Turback, who wrote A Month of Sundaes: Ithaca's Gift to the World and More Than a Month of Sundae, says the Two Rivers story, as well as one about Manitowoc, were bandied about by the late journalist H. L. Mencken, who reported on the matter in the first volume of "The American Language," published in 1919, but later admitted it was a hoax. He just said Mencken was known for pulling hoaxes.
1881 - Two Rivers, Wisconsin:
Two Rivers, Wisconsin claims that the first ice cream sundae was served by accident in 1881. Druggist Edward Berners (1863-1939), owner of Ed Berners' Ice Cream Parlor was asked by a George Hallauer asked for a ice cream soda. Because it was Sunday, the Sabbath, Mr. Berners compromised and put ice cream in a dish and poured the chocolate syrup on top (chocolate syrup was only used for making flavored ice cream sodas at the time). Ed Berners sampled the dish and liked it enough to begin featuring "ice cream with syrup" in his shop for the same price as a dish of ice cream. This ice cream concoction cost a nickel, and soon everybody wanted some.
The only reference to support Two Rivers' claim is a 1929 Two Rivers Reporter newspaper interview by Seymour Althen in which Edward Berners recounts his 40-year-old recollection of how the sundae came about.
Here is a question: Wisconsin birth records indicate Edward Berners was only 18 years old in 1881. It was unlikely than an 18 year old would have been the owner of a ice cream parlor. Ed Berners' obituary in the La Crosse Tribune and Leader-Press newspaper on Sunday Morning, July 2, 1939 reads:
Edward Berners closed his ice cream parlor in 1927. Today, the Washington House Hotel Museum in Two Rivers includes a replica of Ed Berner's ice cream parlor.
The Wisconsin State Historical Society recognizes Two Rivers, Wisconsin as the birthplace of the sundae and in 1973 erected a historical marker in Two Rivers Central Memorial Park that reads:
In 2006, the town of Two Rivers responded to Ithaca with a resolution demanding that Ithace "cease and desist from it claim.
1892 - Ithaca, New York:
Ithaca, New York also claims to be the birthplace of the ice cream sundae in 1892. Reportedly, Sunday afternoon, April 3,1892, after services at the Unitarian Church, Reverend John M. Scott paid his usual visit to the Platt & Colt Pharmacy in downtown Ithaca. Shop proprietor, Chester C. Platt (1869-1934), was church treasurer and he met often with Scott for conversation after services. Seeking refreshment for himself and the reverend, Platt asked his fountain clerk, DeForest Christiance, for two bowls of ice cream. But instead of serving the reverend plain vanilla, Platt took the bowls and topped each with cherry syrup and a candied cherry. The finished dish looked delightful and tasted delicious — so much so that the men felt obliged to name the new creation. After some debate, Scott suggested that it be named for the day it was created. Platt concurred and the first "Cherry Sunday" was born.
Ithaca has extensive documentation supporting the sundae's creation in its' town in 1892. The information is so specific, the city can almost pinpoint the exact hour the first ice cream "Sunday" was served. While other cities may claim the sundae, none can support its claim with primary evidence. This gives Ithaca title to the first documented ice cream sundae in the United States.
Two Ithaca high school seniors, Meredith Buchberg and Laura Willemsen, spent 6 months working as Corson Fellow interns at The History Center in Tompkins County in 2007, researching online data bases and physical archives to discover the "Sundae Truth." They researched and uncovered the below information to back up Ithaca's claim as "The Birthplace of the Sundae."
The town of Evanston, Illinois claims to have originated the name or phrase - ice cream sundae. They do not claim to have been the originator of the sundae. Evanston, Illinois (then know as Chicago's Heaven or Heavenston) was one of the first towns to outlaw the "Sunday Soda Menace." Evanston was a very strict religious town where the Sabbath was strictly observed. The town even passed an ordinance prohibiting the retailing of ice cream sodas on Sunday. According to sources published in Evanston, the sundae originated at Garwoods' Drugstore. In order for people to continue getting their ice cream treats, some creative person turned it into a sundae instead. They did not serve ice cream sodas. They served sodas without soda on Sunday. The Evanston Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) championed it as a pleasant alternative to alcoholic drinks. Mr. Richard Lloyd Jones, former editor and publisher of the Tulsa Tribune, wrote the following in an article he wrote one the history of the ice cream sundae:
1880s: Historical Event/Fact, by Tamara K. Gross.
A Month of Sundaes: Ithaca's Gift to the World, by Michael Turback, Red Rock Press, New York, NY, 2002. - Official Website of the Ice Cream Sundae.Bruce Stoff, Marketing Communications Manager, Ithaca/Tompkins Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Chocolate, Strawberry, and Vanilla: A History of American Ice Cream, by Ann Cooper Funderburg, published by Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1995.
Greek Trivia: Sweetness and Lies.
History of the Ice Cream Sundae, by Mr. Richard Lloyd Jones, Tulsa Tribune, Evanston Public Library.
Meredith Buchberg and Laura Willemsen, Corson Fellow interns at The History Center in Tompkins county in 2007.
Official website of the Ice Cream Sundae.
Sundae Best: A History of Soda Fountains, by Anne Funderburg, Popular Press, an imprint of University of Wisconsin Press, 2003.
Two Rivers Historical Society, The REAL Birthplace of the Ice Cream Sundae.
Welcome to Ithaca, Home of the Ice Cream Sundae. Copies of the original documents presented here are on display for public review at the History Center in Tompkins County.
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