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Going bananas: Pa. city gearing up 'split' bash
Thursday - 8/22/2013, 6:58am EDT
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- People are going nuts in one western Pennsylvania city that claims to be the birthplace of the banana split.
The residents of Latrobe, a city of 9,000 some 40 miles east of Pittsburgh, are poised to scoop on peanuts, chocolate sauce and whipped cream as they honor the frozen concoction.
But the cherry on top is a celebration that's morphed into three scoops of fun -- Friday, Saturday and Sundae, er, Sunday -- underwritten by Dole, the banana and fruit company, with help from nearby St. Vincent College, which has adopted the banana split as its unofficial festive food.
"We started throwing this idea around and it turns into this weekend celebration," Dole spokesman Bil Goldfield said. "It got pretty big, pretty fast."
Latrobe officials got the ball rolling when the historical commission agreed in April that the city made its case for a historical marker crediting the first fruit-filled sundae to David Strickler 109 years ago.
The commission said two other American towns also claimed credit for the first banana split -- including Wilmington, Ohio, which holds a weeklong festival each June -- but found there was better evidence to support Latrobe's claim.
Wilmington's claim dates to 1907, while Latrobe officials found receipts showing Strickler had ordered special boat-shaped banana-split bowls from a glass shop by 1905, said Jarod Trunzo, the assistant to Latrobe's city manager. The National Ice Cream Retailers Association also recognizes Latrobe as the sweet treat's birthplace.
Once the city's place in history was secure, officials began looking for ways to dedicate the marker giving the apprentice pharmacist his just desserts for inventing the indulgent treat there in 1904. It will be dedicated on Friday.
And that's where Dole and St. Vincent come in.
Dole has been using National Banana Split day, which falls on Sunday this year, to sponsor social media contests encouraging healthier banana split recipes with 300- and 500-calorie targets. A typical split, including three scoops of ice cream, one 100-calorie banana, and assorted sweet toppings and nuts easily eclipses 1,000 calories, Goldfield said.
But it was St. Vincent's director of public relations, Don Orlando, who suggested the fruit company come to Latrobe to help the city celebrate.
The 2,000-student Catholic college also takes credit for its role in popularizing banana splits. Its students were said to be among Strickler's most loyal customers and legend has it they spread the gospel of the split when they'd scatter each summer, seeking similar treats in hometown ice cream parlors. As a result, St. Vincent still offers banana split bars to jump start student and alumni gatherings.
"It brings a smile to people's face. It's kind of an interesting tradition, but that's what we do," Orlando said. "Have you ever seen anybody unhappy at the Dairy Queen?"
As a result, the event Dole has dubbed the "Great American Banana Split Celebration" will begin and end with St. Vincent's help.
Incoming freshmen will attend Friday's historical marker dedication wearing commemorative t-shirts provided by Dole. The celebration ends Sunday afternoon with a free public banana split bar on campus. Dole is picking up the tab for the cream and some other costs, plus providing all the bananas.
In between, students will participate in a flash mob -- with hundreds or thousands peeling bananas simultaneously on the school's football field -- while the city and civic groups are promoting street merchants, a car cruise, a carnival and a special "yellow tie" banquet Saturday night.
"All these different entities wanted to be part of it and each one scheduled their own event," Orlando said. "It's really a rather remarkable convergence."
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