15 Intriguing Facts About Ithaca, America’s Best College Town

10. Cliffhangers Started in Ithaca

Although the literary device of a cliffhanger has been around for centuries, the term “cliffhangers” actually started in Ithaca.

This term was born from a movie series filmed in Ithaca by Theo and Leo Wharton. Called the Exploits of Elaine, this 1914 classic series is one of many examples of films actually produced in Ithaca during this time.

At the end of one episode, the female protagonist in the episode is actually seen hanging off a cliff. The term cliffhanger has been a staple of the English dialect ever since, all thanks to this.


9. Ithaca Was Once the Capital of the Film Industry

Stewart Park in Ithaca – photo by stan stewart via Wikimedia Commons

Speaking of movies, did you know that Ithaca was once more popular than Hollywood when it came to making American movies.

In what is now Ithaca’s Stewart Park, a film company owned by Theo and leo Wharton, called Wharton Studios, produced quite a number of silent films between the years of 1913 – 1920. 

Ithaca routinely brought in film stars who lived in New York City via the overnight train that ran between these two destinations.

Numerous silent films and serials were created in Ithaca. They include names that, although may not be known to the general public, are among the classics of early filmmaking, including The Eagle’s Eye, Beatrice Fairfax, and more.

Because of this, one century ago Ithaca was actually seen as the silent movie capital in the film industry.


8. It Has Perhaps the Best Music & Theatre Scene of Any College Town

Finger Lakes Grassroots Music Festival – photo by Pete716 via Wikimedia Commons

Music and the arts adorn the city of Ithaca, New York.

Porchfest is one of Ithaca’s most beloved traditions, an annual September event lasting 6 hours long featuring over 150+ performers playing at over 100+ locations throughout Ithaca!

Outside of Porchfest, Ithaca is next door to the annual Finger Lakes Grassroots Music Festival, an event that draws over 20,000 people to see performances of blues, Cajun, folk, and independent arts styles.

Ani DiFranco, the Avett Brothers, and more have performed here.

Ithaca is home to over a dozen theatres and performing arts organizations, including Ithaca Shakespeare, Cherry Arts, The State Theatre, and Opera Ithaca.

Additionally, Ithaca is home to numerous music venues, clubs, and more catering to an all-ages audience.


7. Both “Puff the Magic Dragon” As Well as “Lolita” Were Written in Ithaca

These two classics were both penned in Ithaca.

Believe it or not, the lyrics to the famous song Puff The Magic Dragon were written by Leonard Lipton, who was at the time a physics student at Cornell University. The song became universally famous when performed by the folk trio Peter, Paul, and Mary back in the mid-1960s.

Former Ithaca resident Leonard Lipton then went on to have a significant career in the film industry, creating a technology that allows for 3D films to be seen. This technology is now used in over 25,000 movie theatres.

Vladimir Nabokov’s famous book Lolita was also written in Ithaca. This text is widely considered the greatest novel of the 20th century. Stanley Kubrick later adapted the text into a classic film.


6. Famous Residents and College Alumni Include…

photo by Montclair Film Festival via Wikimedia Commons

Scientist Bill Nye is an alum of Cornell University. 

CEO Bob Iger, the Head of Disney, attended Ithaca College, as did Grammy-nominated artist Gavin DeGraw.

Vladimir Nabokov and David Foster Wallace, two of the most important literary figures in history, were residents of Ithaca.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg attended Cornell Univerity, as did late night talk show host Bill Maher.

Even important 20th-century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once called Ithaca his home.

And this is just a partial list; many more amazing people once called Ithaca their home.

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