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Cornelliana

Gorging Ourselves: The brainchild of a Cornellian, Ithaca’s beloved tourism slogan graces T-shirts (and lots of other stuff) far and wide

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Coffee can with "Gorges" sloganAnyone who has spent time in Cornell’s hometown knows the city’s tourism slogan: “Ithaca is Gorges.” The ubiquitous green-and-white logo adorns merchandise from T-shirts to bumper stickers, hats to coffee mugs, cell phone cases to chocolate bars. With an illustration of a waterfall in place of the letter I, the pithy pun encapsulates the city’s natural beauty. “It’s like a secret passphrase,” says Mayor Svante Myrick ’09. “ ‘Gorge’ is not a common word; it’s not like everybody has a gorge or three running through their town. So to understand why it’s funny—even the fact that it’s a pun—you have to have been to Ithaca.”

Ithaca is Cold T-shritOver the years, clever variations have sprung up, becoming almost as well-known to Ithacans as the original phrase. They range from the straightforward “Ithaca is Cold” to the tongue-in-cheek “Ithaca is Gangsta” to the more contemporary “Riley is Gorges”—a nod to a local celebrity golden retriever who greets shoppers on the Commons with a drooling smile and a wagging tail. “It’s a reflection of the community,” says Fred Bonn, former director of the Ithaca/Tompkins County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s always fun to go to the Ithaca Festival Parade and see this year’s spin on it.”

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The late Howard Cogan ’50, MPS ’80, in a hoodie bearing his famous slogan.Provided

These playful adaptations are possible for one reason: the man who designed the logo in the Seventies—the late Howard Cogan ’50, MPS ’80—never trademarked it. The owner of a small advertising business downtown, he conceived “Ithaca is Gorges” after local tourism officials tasked him with finding a way to attract visitors to the city. “He came out of his office fifteen minutes later and he had sketched it out,” recalls his widow, Helen Cogan. “Just like that.”

An Ithacan since age six, Howard majored in theatre and later earned a master’s degree in communication. In addition to running his business with his wife, he taught advertising full time at Ithaca College, with part-time gigs at Cornell and Tompkins Cortland Community College. “He loved Ithaca; he never wanted to live anywhere else,” says Helen. “The slogan was his gift to the city. He didn’t want to make any money on it.” And according to Bonn, the logo wouldn’t have become nearly as widespread if Howard had capitalized on it. “You don’t have one company that controls it and polices how it’s used,” he says. “The community really owns it.”

Like other popular tourism taglines—including “I Love New York,” “Keep Austin Weird,” and “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas”—“Ithaca is Gorges” is recognized around the world. Many an Ithacan has a story about a connection they made because of the phrase—whether someone commented on their T-shirt one state over or on the other side of the globe. “When I travel anywhere in the world and tell people I’m from Ithaca, they’ll say, ‘Oh! Ithaca is Gorges!’ ” says Myrick, who notes that he probably owns more shirts bearing the slogan than one human needs. “It’s a shared identity. It reminds us that we’re all neighbors.”

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2 thoughts on “Cornelliana

  1. PhD'81

    I was a first-year grad student at Cornell in the fall of 1976. For Thanksgiving, I drove to Troy NY to meet up with some of my undergrad friends at RPI. One of my friends asked me how I was liking Cornell. I said, “Ithaca is gorgeous”. My friend Bill started laughing. I asked him why he was laughing. He said, “You just made a great pun”. At that point, I got it. Back at Cornell I said this pun over and over and over again. I frequently bought stuff at the store that used to be on the corner of Dryden Rd. and College Ave. I said this pun many times there to friends and to the folks that worked at the store. In my third or fourth year at Cornell (1979 or 1980) that store started selling “Ithaca is Gorges” t-shirts. Within weeks they were being sold everywhere. Howard definitely deserves full credit for making the slogan famous but in my orbit it was my friend Bill who first noticed it.

  2. Johnson MBA, 1977

    True story, in the 70s I was a volunteer with the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce and their new focus on tourism. They opened a first time tourism booth at the foot of Cayuga Lake featuring free “Ithaca Is Gorges” vertical bumper stickers.
    Howard Cogan was a highly respected ad genius. His great ad voice was also featured in countless media ads.

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