Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Greatest Show on Earth!

When we found out there was a circus museum in Sarasota, we knew we had to put it on our list of things to see. Since Betsy and I both love animals and have worked around them for years (her as a scientist in the zoo field and me as an exotic cat trainer at a zoo), we figured we would be captivated.

The Ringling name is synonymous with circus clowns, trapeze artists and a plentitude of exotic animals performing under the big top. The five Ringling Brothers built a circus empire that has entertained young and old for many generations. The Ringling Brothers Circus was born in their home town of Baraboo, Wisconsin, but it was when the expanding Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus was looking for a winter home that they found Sarasota, Florida.

To most people John Ringling was just a circus man, but to Sarasota he was instrumental in growth and development during the 1920’s and pledged to make Sarasota “one of the sights of the south… and one of the most beautiful cities in Florida.” His influence is well pronounced throughout the city. Places like Lido Key, St. Armands Key, and Longboat Key are the high society communities that exist because of Ringling’s development successes. But for all that Ringling’s real estate development meant to the city, it was the gift of his grandiose estate and art collection that is his lasting legacy. The picturesque estate sits on 66 acres along Sarasota Bay and features the Ringling’s palatial mansion, an art museum, circus museum and beautiful gardens including an expansive rose garden.

Ringling named his Venitian Gothic palace "Ca'd'Zan" meaning "House of John" in the
Venitian dialect.

The mansion was completed in
1925 at a cost of $1.5 million.

There are 41 rooms and 15 bathrooms - perfect for two people!
The building is constructed from terra cotta "T" blocks, concrete,
and brick covered with stucco and terra cotta, and decorated
with glazed tile.

The highlight is the 81-foot Belvedere
tower that overlooks Sarasota Bay.

Ringling’s interest in European, American, and Asian art was enough to fill the 21 galleries in the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art with paintings and sculptures by artists like Rubens, El Greco, Velázquez, and van Dyck. The Museum opened in 1931 and features Ringling’s personal collection. Ringling stipulated that the museum must be free to the public one day a week and left an endowment to insure that it happens; therefore, ensuring his art collection would be viewed by all who are interested. The beauty of the Ringling Museum is not confined to the galleries decorated by artistic masterpieces, but flows out onto the grounds and gardens which are superbly manicured and works of art in their own right.

Gallery with works from Peter Paul Rubens, the famous Flemish artist.

One of many beautiful galleries in the art museum.

The courtyard of the art museum features a 16-foot bronze replica of
Michelangelo's David.

The art museum and gardens are great, but what we really came to see were the Ringling Museum and the Circus Museum. The Ringling Museum pays homage to the importance of circus history with special exhibits and a permanent collection of circus memorabilia. Located in another building, the Circus Museum houses various other circus memorabilia like circus papers, costumes, performing props and equipment, and the Ringling’s fully restored private railcar. The show piece of the Circus Museum is the authentic replica of a Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus in miniature. The “circus” is complete with 8 tents, 152 wagons, 1,300 circus performers, 800 animals, and a 57-car train.

Circus constumes on display.  
The Circus Museum has great exhibits that are informative and interactive.
Late 1800's circus wagon.
An added bonus for us was the temporary exhibit entitled “The Amazing American Circus Poster: The Strobridge Lithographing Company” showcasing late 19th and early 20th century circus posters. This special exhibit conveyed the importance of the circus poster and how they changed the face of American advertising through their artistry and appeal. The bright color, bold print, life-like animals, charming clowns and dramatic scenes compelled people to visit the circus, thus making it a premier form of entertainment. The still-life, one dimensional exhibit was enhanced by the IPod of circus music that was provided for ones listening pleasure. The sounds of the circus in our ears and sights in front of us certainly made us smile.
The gallery displayed some of the most dramatic
posters seen in the late 1800's - early 1900's.
This poster was designed to attract the public by conveying the magnitude of the circus.

Animals (especially dangerous ones) have always had an appeal to circus goers.
While we came to the Ringling Museum for the circus portion, we were delighted with the rest of the experience. Yes, including the art museum (my second one in one month). My Mom will be so proud.

More pictures....
Circus posters.

The Howard Bros. Circus Model as seen from the upper viewing area.

One of the many scenes in the model circus - the clown dressing area.
Lighting for the model dims so you can get the feel of being under the big top at night.

One of the most death defying stunts at the circus was the human cannon ball.
This contraption was mounted to a GMC truck.
Banyan trees brought from Asia and planted on the grounds.  The roots grow down
from the branches and look like multiple trunks.
One of the many rose bushes.
The rose garden.
View of the art museum courtyard.

1 comment:

  1. Wow - that was very interesting! The house of course is fabulous, but it's the whole circus thing that intrigues. Water for Elephants was one of my favorite books in recent years. My husband is RVPainter and he always talks about you, so I figured I should come by. You may know I'm a writer, and my blog will be Writer on the Road as we head off - two perspectives on our adventure.


We love hearing from you, so please drop us a comment