Thursday, January 16, 2003

A taste of warmer days

It's always summer at Ohio ice cream & dairy museum

By Bill Lubinger
(Cleveland) Plain Dealer

[photo] Steve Stolph, who helps run the family museum and ice cream parlor, poses as a milkman in a reconditioned 1933 milk truck at America's Ice Cream & Dairy Museum at Elm Farm.
(Associated Press photo)
| ZOOM |
MEDINA, Ohio - Snowbirds flee south this time of year.

The rest of us are stuck scraping, shoveling, salting, snarling and sniffing for the next few months.

But there is an oasis in Medina, where it still tastes and feels like summer.

America's Ice Cream & Dairy Museum at Elm Farm - with the Once Upon a Sundae Parlor - offers relief, even for a little while.

It's a monument to milkmen. A memorial to the waffle cone. A shrine to the milkshake.

It's where you go for answers to such burning questions as: If you get brain freeze from eating ice cream too fast in the summer, can you get brain thaw in winter?

"No, but an 11-year-old boy invented the Popsicle," said curator Sherry Abell, serving up a sample of museum trivia to warm the soul.

And did you know, she said, that in 1915 the Massachusetts Board of Education prohibited female teachers from loitering in downtown ice cream shops because they might meet men there?

Ms. Abell and her husband, Carl, opened the museum three years ago, converting what was formerly the Elm Farm dairy plant that Carl's family operated from 1934 to 1979.

Artifacts and memorabilia aren't just from Elm Dairy. The Abells found many items at flea markets, discovered some while traveling and bought others from individuals offering them for sale.

The offbeat museum and replicated turn-of-the-century ice cream parlor are the Abells' way of preserving the nation's dairy heritage and the history of America's love affair with ice cream.

It's more an addiction than love, actually. In July, the biggest ice cream month, Americans bought 54 million gallons of the stuff from grocery stores last year. Even in January, with at least half the population frozen like a pint of Ben & Jerry's, we still bought almost 40 million gallons.

The museum is also Carl's personal legacy, going back to the time when he was a 7-year-old helping his father sell milk door to door from the family Hupmobile. Carl added homemade ice cream to the business in 1950 and still uses many of the original recipes.

"I've grown up in it. I've never gotten it out of my system, I guess," said Carl, 75, whose gleaming eyes punctuate a smile that widens as he reflects.

"I get a kick out of tellin' people and showin' people."

About 2,000 visitors from all 50 states and 62 countries visited the museum in 2002.

They're indicated by pins on a map in the gift shop.

Visitors can request a guided tour, which takes about 1 hours, or tour on their own. Just follow the black cow hooves in the floor.

They lead you past one of the largest collections of cream separators, butter churns, vintage dairy equipment and displays that recall a slice of American culture that's mostly gone.

"Better times, I believe. More wholesome," said Sherry's son, Steve Stolph, 32.

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