When I originally started drafting this post, I was sitting under a banyan tree in the gardens of The Ringling Estate. I had a day off and Tim was in YTT so I decided to take some time to explore my own backyard. I kept pushing it back on my draft list as other trips came up or events happened, thinking to myself “It is the Ringling Circus and this is Sarasota, it will always be here.” I am filled with great sorrow (since they announced their closing) as I write this now, feeling obligated to produce and at the same time unimpressed with my lack of fervor then… And like any millennial I bask in my self pity and wallow for a moment before having a moment of clarity: The Circus Museum and the Ringling Bro’s legacy in Sarasota. W
Title: Mademoiselle Scheel with Lions | Date: C. 1905 Printed 2009 | Artist: Frederick Whitman Glasier | Credit Line: Printed from Glasier Glass Plate Negative Collection, ca. 1895 – 1935
The Circus Museum at The Ringling
I’ve said it in previous posts about the circus; I’ve never been. And with the recent announcement and no more Florida tour dates it is safe to say I never will. With that realization, I feel like I missed out on a classic part of American culture and even more so having lived in Sarasota. I guess the only thing that makes it okay for me is knowing that I am lucky enough to live 15 mins away from the Greatest Show on Earth’s archive and one of the world’s most amazing museums.
The Ringling Estate is home to so much of John Ringling’s legacy that it should be no surprise that Circus Museum also calls the grounds home. Established in 1948, it was the first museum in the country to document the rich history of American circus history. As you walk into the building and through the entrance tent, you enter a circus version of Willy Wonka’s world. It collection showcases banners, costumes, wagons, and The Wisconsin, the Ringlings private railroad car in which John and Mable traveled for business and with the circus.
In this magical world filled with all things circus (past, present, and future) you experience the thrill of circus folk life as you walk by the parade wagons, the colorful posters, the glittering costumes that take your breath away, and the cannon that shot daring performers through the air. You stroll through circus history from antiquity to present day with each step you take.
The museums center piece is the must-be-seen-to-be-believed 44,000-piece Howard Bros. Circus Model and the Greatest Show on Earth Mural celebrating the entertainment that has delighted packed houses in great cities and small towns across America for generations. Step right this way… The circus model weaves around the building, allowing you to see how massive and how awe-inspiring it was to see its trains roll into town.
Photo by: Rick Trilsch, All CC
William Woodward’s “The Graetest Show on Earth” mural is an artistic homage to the circus’ history. It was located in the Field Entertainment offices until the piece was donated in 2012 to The Ringling. At 42 feet by 22 feet the oil on canvas paiting features 45 performers and 45 animals. And even though the Circus Museum is at The Ringling Estate, the collection showcases circus history and pieces from all over the world!