Latrobe's claim as birthplace of banana split to be honored

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A dozen new state historical markers were green-lighted Tuesday by the group in charge of such things, but one stood out as most appealing: the invention of the banana split in 1904 by David Strickler, a 23-year-old apprentice pharmacist in Latrobe.

Of all the other approved markers, including a mine tunnel disaster, a Civil War camp and several churches, only the ice cream confection could be considered "fun." Which is probably why nominator Jarod Trunzo laughed when he heard the sweet news from a reporter.

"It's my birthday, so this is a good present," said Mr. Trunzo, assistant to the Latrobe city manager in community engagement and sustainability. He and Latrobe Mayor Barbara Griffin prepared the 20-page application to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission along with supporting documentation. They submitted it just before the December deadline.

Other American towns claim to be the birthplace of this triple-dip sundae. But the National Ice Cream Retailers Association and other authoritative sources agree that only Latrobe has the documentation to back it up. Dr. Strickler even created a glass dish, or "banana boat," specially designed to accommodate the unusual shape of the dessert.

PG graphic: New state historical markers approved
(Click image for larger version)

The inventor worked at Tassell Pharmacy, 805 Ligonier St. After the success of his creation, he became a pharmacist and optometrist, then bought the store and renamed it Strickler's Pharmacy. It's now a community green space and the likely locale for the plaque.

Mr. Trunzo considers state recognition of the town "first" to be just desserts for a pretender 250 miles away.

"Wilmington, Ohio, thinks they invented it so vehemently," Mr. Trunzo said. "They have a big banana split festival and we shoot emails back and forth with them. It's a fun, good-natured rivalry, but there's no question that Latrobe absolutely is the birthplace. The research is deductive, not emotional."

That first sundae contained scoops of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream topped with pineapple, chocolate and strawberry sauces, covered with maraschino cherries, chopped nuts and whipped cream, all resting on the lengthwise split of a whole banana.

"This creation soon became very popular within Latrobe, especially with the students from nearby Saint Vincent College, who helped to spread the popularity of the new ice cream treat," the application says.

More than a century of brain freeze and sugar shock later, its charm remains. All the more reason for Latrobe to stake its iconic claim.

"We want to make Latrobe the safest, most walkable family-oriented town in Western Pennsylvania," said Mr. Trunzo. "Talking about our history and getting a marker aligned with that, along with being the birthplace of Fred Rogers and professional football, getting all that on Google Maps, makes us a good place for people to visit."

Approval of the marker is just the first step, historical commission spokesman Howard Pollman said. The plaque must still be fabricated and installed. Its appearance will mimic that of 2,300 other markers across the state, with the familiar blue background and gold lettering. No banana splits will appear in the design, but they may well be served when dedication time rolls around.

"Generally, local folks do events around the dedication," Mr. Pollman said. "It really is important to the local communities."

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Sally Kalson: skalson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1610.


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