TWO RIVERS, Wis. -- The history of summer's universal treat has gotten a bit sticky, rousing unlikely passions in this humble getaway along the Lake Michigan coast. Politicians are penning ornery fight songs. History buffs and ice-cream shop matrons have stooped to saber rattling, albeit with spoons.
Folks here devoutly believe the first-ever ice-cream sundae was scooped in 1881 by Edward C. Berner, downtown soda fountain owner and, curiously enough, inventor of the glue pen. But tourism gurus in Ithaca, N.Y., recently began an aggressive campaign claiming the sundae was an upstate New York creation, the work of one Chester Platt in 1892.
If they think they invented it, fine," said Delores Carron, 86, a dignified yet defiant Two Rivers sundae maker. "But I know we did."
Bruce Stoff of Ithaca's conventions and visitors bureau countered: "I got a phone call from a guy in Southern California who's a World War II veteran and he said he's ready to re-enlist and come home to fight the good fight against Two Rivers. We don't plan to surrender."
The timing of what will surely become known as the Great Ice-Cream Sundae War of 2006 is impeccable. Sunday is National Ice Cream Day, created in 1984--pre-obesity epidemic--by President Ronald Reagan to recognize the impact frozen dairy has had on the lives of sweet-toothed Americans. Indeed, the International Ice Cream Association says nearly 10 percent of the milk produced by U.S. dairy farmers is used to make ice cream, and the industry pulls in some $20 billion a year.
So it's understandable that Two Rivers and Ithaca each want a piece of the ice-cream pie. This inter-city grappling, however, has brought new meaning to the term "cold war."
The Two Rivers City Council signed a resolution last month condemning Ithaca's "revisionist history" and ordering it to "cease and desist" all promotional activity regarding the sundae. Ithaca's mayor fired back with a taunting proclamation telling the Wisconsinites: "you got nothin', baby."
Two Rivers City Manager Greg Buckley then wrote a pre-emptive "Sundae Fight Song," which includes the tart lyric: "Topped with chocolate, or with cherries/and with lots of nuts./Try to claim our sundae and/we'll kick your butts!"
Sitting like Switzerland on the border of this conflict is Evanston, which, according to local lore, is also birthplace of the sundae.
In the late 1880s, the devoutly Methodist community--which was definitely the birthplace of prohibition--frowned on serving ice-cream sodas on Sundays, the fizzy water being too titillating. So local parlor owners supposedly replaced soda with syrup and called it a sundae.
But aside from a once-a-year ice-cream sundae social, Evanstonians have all but deserted their dessert.
"We would much prefer to market our fabulous restaurants, our beautiful lakefront and our burgeoning downtown," said Tom Rath, membership and marketing director of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce.
Eden Juron Pearlman of the Evanston Historical Society concurred: "We're not interested in duking it out."
Officials in Two Rivers and Ithaca, on the other hand, are duly engaged.