Postage stamp recalls Latrobe's banana split connection
It was a “very sweet day in the city of Latrobe” Thursday as Mayor Rosie Wolford and other officials unveiled a new U.S. Postal stamp and a local cancellation mark celebrating one of the city's claims to fame — the banana split.
The 47-cent “forever” stamp is one of five in a series by New York City artist Nancy Stahl illustrating “Soda Fountain Favorites.” Other stamps in the series, released June 30 at a historic soda shop in Nashville, Tenn., depict an ice cream cone, a root beer float, a hot fudge sundae and an egg cream.
But the stamp featuring a banana split was the center of attention at a ceremony at the Latrobe Post Office, as Postmaster Mark Dawson helped introduce it locally. He has arranged for a special cancellation mark that patrons at the Latrobe office can request be hand-stamped on their mail for a 30-day period.
The cancellation reproduces the logo of Latrobe's annual Great American Banana Split Celebration, and the stamp ceremony served as a kickoff for this year's event on Aug. 26-28.
“The timing of this stamp could not be any better,” said David Martin, president of the Greater Latrobe Laurel Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The festival celebrates Latrobe's claim as home of the “first documented banana split,” as noted on a Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission marker at the downtown Ligonier Street site of the former Tassell Pharmacy.
The dessert was concocted at the soda fountain there in 1904 by apprentice pharmacist David E. “Doc” Strickler.
He topped bananas sliced lengthwise with three scoops of ice cream — strawberry, chocolate and vanilla — poured on chocolate, caramel and fruit sauce, and topped it with whipped cream and cherries. It sold for 10 cents, twice as much as a regular sundae.
Don Orlando, chairman of the local Chamber of Commerce board, credited Joe Greubel, of the local Valley Dairy restaurant and ice cream chain, for being a longtime champion of the city's banana split connection.
Greubel “has carried the torch for Latrobe's role in banana split history,” Orlando said. “One of his ideas that was talked about for many years was having a banana split stamp.”
Orlando said Greubel was excited about the release of the stamp, but health concerns prevented him from attending the ceremony.
“We here in Latrobe love our rich history,” Wolford said. She explained the banana split was an asset in the community from the start, attracting students from St. Vincent College to the downtown business district to sample the treat.
The state historical marker credits Strickler with designing a boat-shaped glass dish for serving his banana splits. Westmoreland Glass Co. in Grapeville manufactured the distinctive dish.
Martin said the festival, which is expected to attract upward of 25,000 people, will have an added draw this year, with a headlining concert by country star Kellie Pickler set for 5 p.m. on Aug. 27 at Latrobe's Memorial Stadium.
“We wanted to get someone who wasn't on tour and wouldn't be playing in Pittsburgh,” Martin said, noting Pickler fit the bill and reportedly was attracted by the small-town, quirky nature of the Latrobe festival. He noted Pickler has gained fame on television in recent years with her winning appearance in the 2013 “Dancing with the Stars” reality competition and her series on cable channel CMT.
Martin said the downtown festival site will be enhanced with an enlarged entertainment stage for other performers on North Main Street, a farmers market and about 70 vendors, double the number of last year.
The festival will include a car cruise, a banana cream pie-eating contest, a 5K run starting at 9 a.m. Aug. 27 at Memorial Stadium and a color dash, set for noon Aug. 28.
For more about the Great American Banana Split Celebration, visit bananasplitfest.com.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6622 or firstname.lastname@example.org.