The "Ice Screamers"

By J.F. Pirro

If you want the scoop on ice cream, one Coopersburg collector is a veritable soda fountain of information. Rich Grumer* shares his passion with his fellow “Ice Screamers,” a fanatical, history-minded international collectors club.

Members specialize in collecting – and celebrating – ice cream parlor and soda fountain memorabilia. The group of 450 or so members are part detectives, archeologists, historians and preservationists. The club’s 29th annual convention was held last month in Lancaster.

Grumer – an 81-year-old insurance broker–began collecting in 1990, eight years after former ice cream industry executive Ed Marks and others founded the club. He wasted no time in specializing in scoops, though his secondary interest is pre-1930s colored glass straw holders.

At Grumer’s home, scoops hang suspended on fishing line in three rows stretching from the dinning room to the bedrooms. They’re a teaser to his “Ice Cream Room,” a 1996 addition and mini-museum. The contents are valuable enough to keep his identity protected in this story.

Bethlehem’s Gary Dologite, another Ice Screamer, recently bought a 1947 soda fountain from him. “I wasn’t sure I was going to buy it, but I went down for the visit,” Dologite says. “You walk in there – and oh my gosh – it was the better part of a day talking, listening and learning. I bought it, and I’ve been back (to visit) a couple times since.”

There, one finds diverse memorabilia like advertising menu holders, tip trays, freezers – even a tin Anheuser-Busch Ice Cream sign when Prohibition prompted brewery interest in alternative revenue streams. There’s a Hires MiniMaker, which was only in use from 1907-1910. Once, there was a female ice cream-serving mannequin named Trudy. “If I was really an addict, I’d already have built an attic on top of the addition,” the collector says.

While Dologite always liked ice cream, he can’t trace his fascination with its memorabilia. “A scoop here, an ice cream table there, and sooner or later, you have all this stuff,” he says.

One fantasy is to open a Victorian ice cream parlor, even if it’s in his basement. He’s already held ice-cream-themed family gatherings and church socials. A milkshake machine rests on a sideboard in the dining room, and an ice-cream table and chairs fill the breakfast nook. Much of Dologite’s collection is “squirreled away.”

The group’s annual convention always features a show and sale. After a members-only preview, the hall opens to the public. Events feature educational and entertaining speakers.

There’s always an ice cream tasting. One year, garlic ice cream took the cake, though Grumer’s all-time favorite flavor was ambrosia, a mix of coconut and orange in the late 1960s-early 1970s. Now, it’s butter pecan. Dologite’s favorite is vanilla, “a base” to which you add your own fudge, peanuts, etc. “It sounds boring, but not when you start doctoring it up,” he says.

Growing up in Lanark, the now-Coopersburg man remembers the ring of the ice cream truck on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. In the mid-1940s, he worked at Buck’s Soda Fountain in Stroudsburg. “Now, it’s a pizza place,” he laments. “All I remember is being told not to dip (the scoop), but rather to roll it so we’d get some air – and less ice cream – in there.”

Though ice cream memorabilia is hard to find, ice cream shops abound. Among the few local historical creameries were Eck & Fisher in Allentown and Meyer Dairy Company in Bethlehem.

Marks, who was once the general manager for three retail ice cream chains, has also taught in Penn State’s famous “Ice Cream Short Course,” a century-plus-old tradition each January and says, “Ice cream is a fun food!”

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.
icescreamers.com

Sources:
Gus Brunner, [email protected], 610-346-6650

Bethlehem’s Gary Dologite, 610-865-0789; [email protected]

Ed Marks, [email protected]

Judy Snyder, [email protected]

Heather Tomasello, [email protected]

Larry Fussell, [email protected]

Follow @LehighValleyMarketplace on Instagram