Ringling = Sarasota, Art, and The Greatest Show on Earth!


Saturday, we took the #99 bus north to the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art. The Museum is the legacy of circus magnate John Ringling and his wife Mable, and the former 66 acre estate is now home to the art museum; Ca d’Zan, the mansion; a visitors center containing the reconstructed Asolo Theater; the Circus Museum; the Mable Ringling Rose Garden and the Tibbals Learning Center which houses a huge fantastic miniature scale model of a typical circus. We spent Saturday afternoon at the Ringling Museum, and sad to say, we never did get to enter the Art Museum. We simply ran out of time. The facility closes at 5PM, so we didn’t get an early enough start. Next trip. I must admit, we just don’t have an appreciation of art; it’s nice, but it just doesn’t “speak to us”. We did enjoy the tour of the mansion, the circus museum, and the miniature “Howard Brothers Circus”, a 3800 sq. ft. 3/4″:1′ scale model of a working circus, created over a 50 year span by Howard Tibbals. Incredible detail, very interesting! The Circus Museum contains memorabilia and artifacts documenting the history of the Ringling Bros. Circus.


Sarasota was the Ringling’s summer home, and for some time was the summer home of the Ringling Bros. Circus. Ringling was part of the gilded age, he made his fortune with his successful circus, diverse investments, and land development in Florida. At one time Ringling owned all the keys surrounding Sarasota. The land boom in Florida followed the expansion of the rail system, providing easy access to the warm climates of the peninsula for the wealthy industrialists from the north and their families. Each seemed to be participating in a contest of sorts to build the biggest, most ornate, most beautiful and most lavishly expensive summer cottage on the coast. The quest still persists, although today’s homes pale in comparison to the splendor of the massive homes that were built during the orgy of spending during that gilded age. Now, those structures are testament to that period of history, many preserved in their original state and accessible to the public as historic monuments. I enjoy seeing the photos of the construction of these monster projects with an eye toward what must have been involved in the logistics of bringing together the cutting edge technology of the time, the priceless treasures and exotic materials imported from all over the world for incorporation into the construction, and the basic construction materials, most of which simply didn’t exist locally. The costs, even almost a century ago must have been staggering!


The guided tour of the home provides some insight into what it might have been like back in the heyday of that time, and the home is true to the way it would have appeared during the time the Ringling’s used the home.

John Ringling’s fortunes changed during the Great Depression; the bottom fell out of his investments, his beloved Mable died in 1929, and he was never the same. He died in 1936, with $311 in the bank. Still, he kept creditors at bay and managed to hold on to his priceless art collection, leaving it and Ca d’Zan upon his death to the people of Florida. The art collection is said to be one of top 20 in the U.S.

It was a very interesting day, well worth the investment in time. If you go, go early! You’ll need a full day to see it all.
More photos appear in the gallery, click on any of the photos here or the links to the top and left.

One Response to “Ringling = Sarasota, Art, and The Greatest Show on Earth!”

  1. Myla and Dan on 04 Apr 2010 at 4:47 PM #

    Very cool! I love tours of fabulous mansions, like this one and the Ford-Edison Estates. I’m definitely compiling my list of places to see when we visit Florida again. Hope you had a Happy Easter and that Molly didn’t scare the Easter Bunny away.