When he has not been eating sundaes, he has been thinking about them. His single-mindedness recently prompted him to scour the shelves of a specialty foods store for a dark Italian candied cherry that he says is more complementary to vanilla ice cream than maraschino cherries. He bought a bucketful of them.
Mr. Stoff, a manager with the Ithaca visitors bureau, was simply doing his part in a battle his community is having with Two Rivers, Wis., a picturesque community along Lake Michigan, over which place can claim to be the birthplace of the ice cream sundae.
Mr. Stoff was helping Ithaca, an upstate city that is home to Cornell University, arm itself with cherries. “War is hell,” he said.
The dispute dates back decades. The two places have traded occasional letters and barbs since at least the 1970s. Wisconsinites believe Edward C. Berners, the owner of a downtown soda fountain, created the first sundae in 1881 after a customer asked him to spoon a little chocolate sauce over ice cream. The result was so delicious, Mr. Berners began selling the dessert for 5 cents on Sundays, according to the story told there.
However, Ithacans claim the first sundae was not invented until 1892, when a local proprietor, Chester Platt, served his local priest vanilla ice cream covered in cherry syrup with a dark candied cherry on top. The priest suggested the dessert be named after the day, Sunday — although the spelling was later changed out of fear some would find it offensive.
A resident of Two Rivers, Jerry Schubring, 64, a retired accountant, says the Ithaca story is nonsense. “Everybody knows Two Rivers invented it,” he said. “That’s why we’re all so fat here. We eat a lot of them.”
Two Rivers has a historical marker in one of its parks telling the sundae story. That is proof enough, residents said. “I think (Ithacans) want us to send them some cheese,” Mr. Schubring theorized.
Ithacans have something they think is better— an 1892 newspaper advertisement for a new “cherry sunday.” “We have the historical documents and they don’t,” Ithaca Mayor Carolyn K. Peterson said.
Then she turned philosophical: “What makes a sundae? Two Rivers claimed it was the chocolate. We claim it was the fruit, that cherry on top. And it came from here first.”
The most recent escalation in the Sundae War can be credited to Mr. Stoff, who brainstormed a promotion to capitalize on Ithaca’s history while celebrating National Ice Cream Month. Visitors to Ithaca would receive a free sundae on Sundays in July.
While several other cities have claimed to be the birthplace of the sundae, Two Rivers was the only to respond with a hurriedly passed resolution demanding that Ithaca “cease and desist” from its claim. The measure also suggested Ithaca should be content being the home of Cornell. “Our municipal pride has been challenged,” said Greg Buckley, city manager of Two Rivers.
Then, at its annual “Sundae Thursday,” a local summer festival, Two Rivers distributed postcards picturing the historical marker and urged residents to mail them Mayor Peterson. The cards include this verse: “Ice cream sundaes are sweet .../and they give you the shivers./Just remember they started/right here in Two Rivers!”
So far, Mayor Peterson has received more than 100 of the postcards, including one signed by the “ghost of Ed Berners.” One Two Rivers resident upped the tensions by sending an inflatable cow. For a final blow, Mr. Buckley sent the mayor a DVD with a group of Wisconsinites singing a sundae “fight song.”
“Wisconsin residents tend to have more heft,” Mr. Buckley said. “We can handle them.”
Ithaca responded with its own proclamation that chided Two Rivers for being a community of “great storytellers.”
To help sway hearts and minds, both cities took out ads in each other’s newspaper.
Recently, Mayor Peterson heard rumors that Ithaca had its own historical plaque dedicated to the sundae, and she searched its downtown with a reporter in tow.
After asking directions from a hot-dog vendor, a shopkeeper and several passersby, she found a small marker embedded in the sidewalk dedicated to the country’s first sundae, which the marker said was created in 1892 in Ithaca.
“A scoop,” she said triumphantly.
Meanwhile, Mr. Stoff is plotting to paper Two Rivers with a locally famous bumper sticker, “Ithaca is Gorges.” He has thought about hiring a skywriter for the next Two Rivers Sundae Thursday festival. “Somewhere between vandalism and humor lies the perfect attack,” Mr. Stoff said.
Two Rivers is considering building a large floral display in the park dedicated to the sundae. “We’ve been talking about it for years,” Mr. Buckley said. “But Ithaca may have pushed us over the edge.”
With summer waning, both cities are preparing to cease hostilities — at least until next year.