Sunday, June 03, 2001
The great banana split
Latrobe, Pa., and Wilmington both claim this sundae started in their town
By Chuck Martin
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Maybe we should let this one alone.
It's the case of two small towns Wilmington, Ohio, and Latrobe, Pa. that claim to be the birthplace of one of the oldest ice cream sundaes the banana split.
The town's split on who created the decadent dessert first. And to make it more sticky even though residents of Wilmington and Latrobe have bragged about their homegrown treat for years they say they've never heard of their rival's claim.
Folks in Wilmington, about 50 miles northeast of Cincinnati in Clinton County, say restaurant owner Ernest Hazard created the banana split in the blustery winter of 1907. Business was slow, the story goes, so Mr. Hazard devised the sundae made with a split banana, ice cream, fruit, chocolate toppings, whipped cream, crushed nuts and maraschino cherry as a way to attract students from nearby Wilmington College.
Many in Wilmington grew up hearing the story, and naturally assumed the banana split's home was their birthright. Dan Rodenfels always believed it, even though his grandfather Mr. Hazard died when he was young.
It was what my mother (Roberta Hazard Rodenfels) told me, says Mr. Rodenfels, publisher of the Logan Daily News, near Athens. And she made me plenty of banana splits when I was a kid.
IF YOU GO
What: Banana Split Festival |
When: 5-10 p.m. Friday and noon-10 p.m. Saturday.
Where: J.W. Denver Williams Memorial Park, Wilmington
Information: (877) 428-4748
Miscellaneous: Banana split and other food booths, crafts, classic car cruise, games and free entertainment
Proud of its banana split heritage, Wilmington began celebrating the birth of the sundae seven years ago with an annual festival in June. This year, Wilmington's Banana Split Festival will be Friday and Saturday in J.W. Denver Williams Memorial Park.
I do believe there is a bigger awareness of banana splits here, says Mary Gibson, who owns Gibson's Goodies ice cream shop in Wilmington and provides ice cream for the festival. Last year, Ms. Gibson sold more than 2,000 banana splits during the two-day event.
Latrobe story predates Ohio's
About 275 miles away in western Pennsylvania, the residents of Latrobe always have heard the story of how optometrist Dr. David Strickler invented the banana split at his downtown pharmacy. According to legend, Dr. Strickler was inspired while watching soda jerks work during a visit to Atlantic City, N.J. He came home to create the banana split in 1904 three years before Mr. Hazard supposedly unveiled his sundae in Wilmington.
Like Mr. Hazard, Dr. Strickler was motivated in part by marketing. He hoped his banana split would draw students from nearby St. Vincent College. It worked: The college students loved the sundae and spread word about it when they returned home, mostly on the East Coast. The banana split became so popular, Dr. Strickler asked a local glass company to custom-make a long, narrow dish to hold his ice cream creation.
We were the originators of the banana split, declares Carl Mattioli, president of the Latrobe Historical Society.
Mr. Mattioli also points out that the town of about 9,000 is the home of Rolling Rock Beer, Fred Mr. Rogers, and the first professional football game.
We should have the (Pro) Football Hall of Fame here, but people sat on their haunches too long and Canton (Ohio) got it, Mr. Mattioli says.
So you can bet the people of Latrobe don't want to give up their claims on the banana split, especially to an Ohio town.
Latrobe takes its sundae history seriously the town's Elks Club has a banana split on its official pin, and St. Vincent College uses the banana split story in its recruiting material. Latrobe doesn't hold a banana split festival like Wilmington does, but the town is planning an event for 2004, celebrating the split's 100th anniversary. Of course, Wilmington will mark the anniversary three years later.
I do believe we were first, says Joe Greubel, owner of the Valley Dairy ice cream chain in Latrobe. I knew Dr. Strickler. And I still regret not having my picture taken with him.
A more objective expert, Bryce Thomson, who lives in Eaton Rapids, Mich., and claims to be the world's oldest soda jerk at age 84, sides with Latrobe in the banana split dispute.
I have never heard about Wilmington's claim, says Mr. Thomson, who has written the Sundae School Newsletter for the Ice Cream Retailers Association for 20 years. Most historians agree Latrobe is the home of the banana split.
But Wilmington isn't backing down.
Our research indicates that Wilmington remains the birthplace of the banana split as we know it today, says Debbie Stamper of the Clinton County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Since both alleged creators have long since died, their respective businesses have closed and no living relatives can make undisputed claims, mysteries surrounding the birth of the banana split will continue. Bananas became popular in the United States around the turn of the 20th century, but how could two men create two such unusual sundaes that looked so much alike?
To make things more intriguing, a published report documents the introduction of something called the banana split in 1905 by a department store soda jerk at a convention of the National Association of Retail Druggists in Boston. Did the soda jerk learn to concoct the banana split from Dr. Strickler, or did Dr. Strickler learn from him and then fudge the date of his creation? Did Mr. Hazard attend the same convention and return home to Wilmington to invent the banana split two years later?
Who knows? says his grandson, Mr. Rodenfels. And who cares?
Classic Banana Split
1 banana, peeled and split lengthwise
1 scoop each: vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream
Place banana halves in long dish. Place scoops of ice cream in center of dish on top of or in between banana halves. Top chocolate ice cream with chocolate syrup, strawberry ice cream with strawberry topping and vanilla ice cream with pineapple topping.
Sprinkle crushed nuts on top of toppings and ice cream. Add whipped cream and garnish with cherry. Makes 1 banana split.
'Producers' primed for Tony Awards
Designer ready for Tony loss
'Full Monty' sheds film's innocence
Over-the-top 'Producers' true marvel
'Proof' masters equation for excellence
'Seussical' will take charms on road
Win by 'Jane Eyre' star could save beautiful show
ABC spells trouble for Channel 9 news
Tour aims to unify communities
DEMALINE: The Arts
Festival founded on revival of the washboard
Jerky makers find TV beefs up orders
KENDRICK: Alive and well
Quilter/poet threads her artistry with African-American history
School-day wines still OK today
Southern rockers roll on at Volunteer Jam
The great banana split
The real deal at poker
Get to it