A photo of a man with a white beard and glasses wearing an "Ithaca is Gorges" hoodie

The Cornellian Behind the Slogan ‘Ithaca is Gorges’

Late advertising guru Howard Cogan ’50, MPS ’80, coined the now-ubiquitous catchphrase—and gifted it to the community

Anyone 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.”

Over 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.

A man in a tie-dye T-shirt, holding a coffee cup, sitting next to a water bottle (all with the slogan "Ithaca is Gorges") in front of. waterfall.
“Ithaca is Gorges” merch, modeled—aptly—on the Cascadilla Gorge Trail. (Photo by Ryan Young / Cornell University)

“It’s a reflection of the community,” says Fred Bonn, former director of the Ithaca/Tompkins County Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It’s always fun to go to the Ithaca Festival Parade and see this year’s spin on it.”

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 (who passed away in 2008) majored in theater 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.

When I travel anywhere in the world and tell people I’m from Ithaca, they’ll say, ‘Oh! Ithaca is Gorges!’ It’s a shared identity.

Mayor Svante Myrick ’09

“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.”

Top image: Howard Cogan in an illustration by Cornell University.

Published October 18, 2021


Comments

  1. John Speese III, Class of 1977

    The logo didn’t become well-known until after I graduated…in fact I had never heard it until fairly recently, but once I did, I got it immediately! Any Cornellian of any era would certainly remember the Fall Creek and Cascadilla Creek gorges! And hopefully enjoyed them as much as I did.

    • Jamie Jamitkowski

      I studied Advertising with Howard at IC in the early 90s. Every time I see an “Ithaca is Gorges” sticker or shirt, I still think “I know the guy who created that!”

      Howard was an amazing guy who is missed by all of his former students every say.

  2. Carol gumpert, Class of 1972

    How can I get T-shirts? XL and L.

  3. Ferg Jansen, Class of 1968

    Howard did promo for MNORX in the 60s and early 70s for the BOXCAR(Garry’s got a new Boxcar) and WAREHOUSE our rock & roll hall on the same sight as BOXCAR on Dryden Road. He did a presentation for franchising. Nice Guy!
    thaks for the reminder.

    Ferg Jansen

  4. Eric Senkowsky

    Howard’s great work in the 70s was everywhere in Tomkins County. His deep voice on radio ads, including those for his bank clients. Other creative pieces, including a printed sliding two piece advertising rate card. Used to generate ad sales for our early local TV cable news on WCIC-TV. I still have a prized copy from when I worked there before B school.
    As long as there are gorges in Ithaca “Ithaca Is Gorges” will live on.

  5. DAVID W GOOLD, Class of 1973

    I was riding from San Francisco to Berkeley on BART about 1990 when I saw a young man wearing the green T-shirt. He sat down with me and before we got to our shared destination, I learned that he was professionally involved in livable cities as a result of his Cornell education. Many of his ideas have now been adopted, such as complete streets.

  6. Susan Dillon, Class of 1957

    Were his parents the owners of the shoe store in town?

  7. Donald F Schwartz

    Howard was an original — great fun to be around and always a devoted friend. He loved Ithaca, Cornell and IC and I think he wanted to give back. His slogan is that payment and the community owes him for it.
    Thanks, Howard.

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