The Great Ice Cream Sundae Debate Two Rivers, Wis., insists that the ice cream sundae was invented there. The town of Ithaca, N.Y., says it has new evidence that proves a hometown boy invented the dairy delight.
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The Great Ice Cream Sundae Debate

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The Great Ice Cream Sundae Debate

The Great Ice Cream Sundae Debate

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Who invented the ice cream sundae? Two towns disagree. Sixteen years ago, we spoke with a man named Mark Heller. He was then the president of radio station WTRW in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, who said that the ice cream was invented...

(Soundbite of NPR archived recording)

Mr. MARK HELLER (President, WTRW): Right here in our town about one block away from our radio station in 1881.

SIMON: George Hollets(ph), you are the historian for Ithaca, New York. Do you accept that?

Mr. GEORGE HOLLETS (Historian, Ithaca, New York): Well, I accept that the ice cream sundae actually was invented here in Ithaca on a hot summer afternoon in 1897.

SIMON: Last summer, the ice cream conflict flared up with Ithaca claiming the title in a summer tourism campaign. Two Rivers fired back with a sundae fight song. The two towns have exchanged city proclamations and snide gifts ever since.

Today, Ithaca claims to have hard proof that discredits Two Rivers' claim to inventing the sundae. From Ithaca, New York to plead their city's case are Laura Willemson and Meredith Buchberg. They are students at Ithaca High School, and the town's ice cream sundae researchers.

Ms. Buchberg and Ms. Willemson, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. MEREDITH BUCHBERG (Student, Ithaca High School; Ice Cream Sundae Researcher): Thank you for having us.

Ms. LAURA WILLEMSON (Student, Ithaca High School; Ice Cream Sundae Researcher): Thank you.

SIMON: Meredith Buchberg, if I could ask you first. What did you find, a very old ice cream sundae dish from the 1880s or what - how did you conduct this?

Ms. BUCHBERG: Well, we started first with an advertisement that run in the Ithaca Journal in the first week of April in 1892, which was advertising the ice cream sundae at Chester Platt's drugstore, which was in downtown Ithaca.

SIMON: And did you try and compare this with any ads that might have run in Two Rivers? Laura Willemson.

Ms. WILLEMSON: Actually we had a hard time finding any substantial evidence that Two Rivers had.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: As much as it pained you to note that, you mean?

Ms. WILLEMSON: Yes. Well, their main piece of evidence that they claim is an obituary that ran in the Chicago Tribune in 1939 that stated that Ed Berners was the inventor of the ice cream sundae in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. The Chicago Tribune says that he invented it about 40 years earlier, but our advertisement ran in 1892, which stowed up in about seven years prior to his invention of the sundae so.

Ms. BUCHBERG: It just doesn't add up. And we found evidence that three years after they say they created sundae Ed Berners was working somewhere else. So it leads us to wonder what happened to the sundae shops that was so popular.

Ms. WILLEMSON: Right. And also we looked up the genealogical files there and it states that he would have been about 16 or 17 in 1881, which is - it seems highly improbable that he would have had his own ice cream store.

SIMON: You guys are just withering, aren't you? I mean...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BUCHBERG: Well, we look at our evidence and we have newspaper articles and we've found signed statements by the man who made the first ice cream sundae, and official documents that say we had it in 1892, and we've seen nothing in Two Rivers.

SIMON: Signed statements?

Ms. WILLEMSON: Well, there was a written affidavit by DeForest Christiance and he was the clerk working in the Platt & Colt Pharmacy in Ithaca. And he wrote this affidavit in 1936 stating that he witnessed Mr. Platt and the reverend of the Unitarian Church here in Ithaca, John Scott. They came into the pharmacy and they concocted this sundae. Well, Platt concocted the sundae.

SIMON: So what do you think happened with Two Rivers?

Ms. BUCHBERG: You know, we don't doubt that they had the sundae some time, but we think perhaps they conveniently pushed their date back a little bit before ours.

Ms. WILLEMSON: I mean, it could have also been that a student from Cornell had had it here in Ithaca after it was invented in 1892, and then taken it back to their hometown and presented it to their druggists there so.

SIMON: Meredith Buchberg?

Ms. BUCHBERG: Mm-hmm.

SIMON: What it's like to grow up in a town that considers itself the inventor of the ice cream sundae?

Ms. BUCHBERG: Ithaca's kind of a quirky little town and it seems like a fitting thing for Ithaca to be the home of the ice cream sundae. It's not your normal thing to claim but it fits pretty well with the character of the town so I'm pretty proud of it.

SIMON: That's researchers Meredith Buchberg and Laura Willemson. They claim to have evidence that Ithaca, New York, is the true home of the ice cream sundae.

We called Greg Buckley, the city manager for Two Rivers, Wisconsin, for his response. And Mr. Buckley says, the town stands by its story that Ed Berners invented the sundae in 1881 as for what he calls some of the date discrepancies in the Chicago Tribune's obituary for Mr. Berners, he says. He says, Two Rivers is getting the inside scoop on that.

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