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’

Stories You May Like

NYC-based Historian Hugh Ryan ’00 Brings LGBTQ+ Stories to Life

‘Upside-Down Rhinos’ Study Is Latest Big Red Research to Win an Ig Nobel

Big (Red) Love: A Celebration of Cornellian Couples

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

By Alexandra Bond ’12

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 former Ithaca 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.”

To understand why it’s funny—even the fact that it’s a pun—you have to have been to Ithaca.

Former mayor Svante Myrick ’09

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.

“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.”

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. (Ryan Young / Cornell University)

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.

Stories You May Like

NYC-based Historian Hugh Ryan ’00 Brings LGBTQ+ Stories to Life

‘Upside-Down Rhinos’ Study Is Latest Big Red Research to Win an Ig Nobel

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.

“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.”

The slogan was his gift to the city.

Helen Cogan, Howard's widow

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: Illustration by Cornell University.

Published October 18, 2021; updated November 4, 2022


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.

    • David Dyer-Bennet

      I don’t know about “well-known”, but I learned it on a visit it 1976 and have remembered it ever since.

  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?

    • Michael Cogan, Class of 1980

      Yes. My dad’s family came to Ithaca in 1935 (dad was 5) when my grandfather, Lou Cogan, got a job as the manager of the shoe department at Rothschild’s department store (which was at the southwest corner of Aurora and State Streets, long before the Commons).

      Eventually grandpa opened his own shoe store: Cogan Sample Shoes, on the corner of Tioga and State Streets. When Robbie Dean refurbished the facade of his People’s Pottery store at that location, it revealed the original sign for “Cogan Sample Shoes”.

      Many issues of The Cornell Daily Sun in the 1950s carried ads for Cogan Sample Shoes.

      My grandpa Lou also taught horseback riding at Cornell and helped coach the polo team. My grandmother, Celia Cogan, worked as a secretary in the Cornell women’s athletic department at Newman Hall for more than 30 years.

      When dad went back to Cornell for his master’s degree at the age of 49, his mom’s three decades of service to Cornell and its women athletes earned him a big break on tuition.

      Dad and I graduated together in 1980 as Cornell’s first parent-child simultaneous graduates (at least according to Cornell’s PR department).

      Thanks to the other commenters here for the kind words about my dad and his many gifts to his beloved Cornell, Ithaca College, and Ithaca. Ithaca Is Gorges!

  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.

  8. Grace, Class of 1997

    Professor Cogan!I remember this slogan and still say it to this day 😉 Plus, I’m a fan of the word “gorge” so it had a double meaning for me! Makes me want to visit soon. Thank you!!

  9. Robert Davidson, Class of 1963

    I was in advertising, too, and my comment to The New York Times was printed over 20 years ago:

    To the Editor: Having visited nearly 90 countries (thanks to work in the airline industry), I know a worthy site when I see it. Joseph Siano missed two in his ”What’s Doing in the Finger Lakes” (Aug. 30).

    The Cornell University campus in Ithaca, complete with waterfalls, gorges, a suspension bridge and panoramic views of Cayuga Lake, is one of the most sensational educational settings on earth. Nearby, in Robert H. Treman State Park, is Upper Enfield Gorge. A stone path takes you along the edge, past rushing water and sculptured rock formations. Then a series of sharp turns reveals three sudden and scenic surprises — each larger and more dramatic than the previous. I’ve seen many beautiful gorges; this was the first that surprised me.

    ROBERT E. DAVIDSON

    New York, N.Y.

  10. Jen (Rivera) Newman, Class of 1994

    Howard was not only the best, most inspiring teacher I’ve ever had, he was like a second father to us all. I competed on his Ad Lab team (2 years in a row) and also worked as a student teacher for his ad research class. He always went above and beyond to make learning fun. His stories, his creativity and his enthusiasm for his discipline made all of us excited to come to class everyday. No matter who you were, he would make you feel smart, valued and worth his attention. Every student in his class worked hard to make him proud. I will always remember his smile, his laugh, his beautiful wife Helen who he loved and talked about a lot, his funny stories, his creativity, his drive and care for his students. Howard was one of a kind. He will never be forgotten.

Leave a Comment

Once your comment is approved, your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Other stories You may like