June 10, 2016, marked the 22nd annual Banana Split Festival. Behind the scenes of this sweet celebration, a battle has raged for years between the citizens of two All-American towns.
Each year, the festivities honor Ernest Hazard of Wilmington, Ohio, who concocted the treat in 1907 to attract Wilmington College students to his establishment.
He halved a banana, added three scoops of ice cream, topped each with chocolate syrup, strawberry jam or pineapple bits, sprinkled ground nuts on top, covered it in whipped cream and added two cherries for good measure. He later brainstormed the name with a cousin.
In June 1995, the people of Wilmington created the Banana Split Festival to honor Hazard’s invention. It’s been celebrated every year since.
But in August 2004, residents of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, announced that pharmacist David Strickler had originated the dessert at Tassel Pharmacy in 1904, three years before Hazard. The town instituted its own Great American Banana Split Celebration, pegged to the 100th anniversary.
The National Ice Cream Retailers Association (NICRA) certified Latrobe as the birthplace of the banana split. Food historian Michael Turback, author of The Banana Split Book, agreed, although he was unable to find any hard evidence such as newspaper clippings on which to base his decision.
“Soda fountains were very competitive,” Turback explained of the opposing claims. “They were always trying to outdo each other, to see who had the most elaborate sundaes.”
While Wilmington, Ohio, and Latrobe, Pennsylvania, continue to duke it out for dessert dominance, the real winners are banana split fans who have not one, but two events to celebrate their love for a whole lot of ice cream with a little bit of fruit.
Ohio’s festival features live music, pony rides, a petting zoo, a baseball tournament, a 5K run and a banana split eating competition (no hands allowed!). However, the featured attraction every year is a “make your own banana split” booth. Yum!
Happy Banana Split Festival!