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Was the Ice Cream Sundae Invented in Plainfield? PBS Special Will Unravel the Mystery

Did a Lockport Street druggist come up with the creamy creation? Or is the story just sugar-coated history?

Today, you can find it in any town in the United States — whether you prefer yours with hot fudge, with or without nuts or topped with a cherry, the ice cream sundae is an American staple.

But the sweet treat was a novelty back in the 1890s, when 24-year-old Charles Sonntag introduced the sundae at his pharmacy and soda fountain on Lockport Street. Today, the location is home to .

But was the creamy concoction truly invented here? That’s the mystery filmmakers will unravel in an upcoming PBS documentary, which takes a look at the four towns that claim the distinction of being the first place to serve up a sundae.

The special, “The Mysterious Origin of the Ice Cream Sundae,” will feature a guest appearance from architect and local historian .

Filmmaker Eric Roberts, founder of Mysterious Origin Productions, was in downtown Plainfield June 27 to interview Lambert.

Roberts tracked Lambert down after an Internet search led him to Plainfield Patch’s “A Town Called Plainfield” column.

“I think the Patch article really brought Plainfield to light,” said Lambert. Previously, the filmmakers were aware of three towns believed to be the birthplace of the ice cream sundae: Two Rivers, Wisconsin; Evanston, Illinois; and Ithaca, New York.

“It popped up on the Internet that there’s a fight between Ithaca, New York and Two Rivers, Wisconsin,” Roberts said. “It looked like it was a little bit of fun.”

Subsequent searches turned up legends tracing the origin of the sundae back to Evanston and Plainfield. And the battle to claim the tasty treat can get a bit intense — Two Rivers even has its own ice cream sundae fight song.

“It’s a hoot,” Lambert said of the song. “Plainfield’s behind the eight ball,” he joked.

But the village does have one fact on its side in the battle to claim ownership of the ice cream treat. The name of the druggist, Sonntag, just happens to be the German word for “Sunday,” Lambert said.

Roberts said his New York-based company is producing an entire series of food origin mysteries, tracing the roots of favorites including Thousand Island dressing, potato chips, the hamburger and the English muffin.

“There’s a lot of cool origin stories,” Roberts said.

As for the ice cream sundae story, the production company has snagged a deal with PBS, which has committed to broadcast the documentary.

“Now we’re waiting for some grant money to come in” to complete the project, Roberts added.

As for the identity of the real “sweet spot,” a promo for the upcoming documentary promises all will be revealed when the special airs. Stay tuned to Patch for information on air dates and times.

Natalie Stevens (Editor) July 26, 2012 at 12:48 AM
Plainfield sure found a "sweet" bit of history! I think I'll actually be tuning in to watch the PBS documentary!
Tim July 26, 2012 at 05:15 AM
short answer - no
Michael Lambert July 26, 2012 at 07:10 AM
@ Tim: Turns out there may not be a "short answer"...stay tuned!
Tim July 26, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Long answer - Charles Sonntag was born in 1869, his shop opened no earlier than 1893. There is documented evidence of the sundae already being sold in 1892, at least one year earlier than Sonntags shop even existed, in Ithaca, NY. Was Charles Sonntag a time-traveler? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sundae#Ithaca.2C_New_York_in_1892 Here is a story right here on Patch, that you wrote by the way, that lays out more details of the timeline; http://plainfield.patch.com/articles/lambert-plainfield-s-tie-to-1960s-television "However, the ice cream sundae was sold at Two Rivers, Wisconsin as early as 1881; at Evanston, Illinois in 1890; and at Ithaca, New York by May 1892. " Did you forget your own writings of local history for the purposes of plugging an upcoming show that you are in? Michael, I don't need a TV show to tell me that there are no documented facts to support the plainfield 'claim'. No year is given with it, and it is nothing more than a local rumor spread by word of mouth. I know Patch is attached at the hip with publishing rumors, but there is absolutely zero documented evidence for this claim, and quite a bit of historical fact established for other towns, that proves it to be false. By the logic in this story, the following would be a valid statement; Lambert has part of its roots in German, part of it translates into 'land'. Therefore, it is possible that the Lambert family invented land. Sounds silly, doesn't it.
George July 26, 2012 at 03:27 PM
Tim, you are such a Debbie Downer. Inventor or not, Plainfield may have a role in it's current incarnation. I wonder what you do to spend so much time on the patch knocking everything down.
Tim July 26, 2012 at 03:55 PM
George, the question was not 'Did plainfield have a role in the current incarnation of the ice cream sundae?' The question is 'Was the Ice Cream Sundae invented in Plainfield' Perhaps if Patch didn't publish so many factually incorrect stories, I wouldn't have to knock them down. You may think it is 'amusing', but this tendency to rumors has a negative impact on the community. How quickly we all forget why the last editor is no longer working here... after posting rumor after rumor about a local business, that all turned out to be false. It didn't change the amount of people who were suddenly asking legitimate business owners if these negative rumors were true, and it didn't stop the ones who didn't speak up to ask from just avoiding the business all together until it finally closed up shop. Publishing rumors as if they are facts, is harmful to the community as a whole. And if I have the verified evidence to prove them wrong, I will speak up every single time and provide the sources to prove it.
George July 26, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Tim, It's fine if you want to knock down rumors, but wikipedia isn't what I consider verified evidence. The news article, from my interpretation, is a fluff (All major news reports fluff) piece informing the community about a PBS Special. They weren't making the statement that it was true, but that it had a possible role and will be filmed as such in the PBS Special.
Michael Lambert July 26, 2012 at 07:02 PM
By, George...you got it!
Tim July 26, 2012 at 07:41 PM
"Did a Lockport Street druggist come up with the creamy creation?" "But the village does have one fact on its side in the battle to claim ownership of the ice cream treat. The name of the druggist, Sonntag, just happens to be the German word for “Sunday,” Lambert said." The story most certainly does give the impression or possibility that it was invented here. I expect sensationalism from Patch. I do not expect the local historical society to participate in sensationalism to plug an appearance on a TV show.
Brandon Andreasen July 26, 2012 at 08:51 PM
Oh sweet jesus, how depressing of a life do you have to live to be debating the merits of who came up with an ice cream sundae first? Seriously, Tim, let it go.
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