I have always been enchanted by circus history. Part of me has always wished that the circus used to be what it was to my grandparents — a grand spectacle that rolled into town on elaborate train cars, and an event that was anticipated for weeks and marveled at from beginning to end. While the circus is still an event, it comes to town in semis, is presented in stadiums, stays for one night, and is then off to the next city. What I wouldn’t give to be able to walk into a true big top tent!
The circus is still very much cherished and alive in the gulf coast town of Sarasota, Florida. The hostess at our hotel brought out a book of old black and white photos of her with six foot tall feather headdresses, performing balancing acts with elegance and grace. Most people who have been in Sarasota for a while have some sort of circus tale to tell. In fact, many generations of circus families still call Sarasota home. The influence of John and Mabel Ringling can be felt all over town, from casual bars downtown to higher end restaurants near the beach. The city and its residents know they have the Ringlings to thank for so many of the great art and culture programs within Sarasota, leaving the city feeling far more cultured and sophisticated than other Florida Gulf Coast towns.
We had the opportunity to tour the Ringling Circus Museum and Ringling estate when we were in town at the end of July, and it is truly a place for every generation. The Ringlings were avid art collectors, and before Mr. Ringling passed he left his entire estate to the state of Florida, allowing his legacy to live on, as well as the legacy of the circus he so dearly loved and that came to define a generation.
I just learned that of the 42,000+ items in the Tibbals circus, all of them can be packed up into the 55+ train cars. How’s THAT for attention to detail?
For more information on visiting The Ringling, including the Circus Museum, Asolo Theater, Ca’ d’Zan, gardens and art museum, visit Ringling.org.
Find more of Casey’s writing on her blog moosh in indy or her Babble Voices site Shutterlovely. She’s also available on twitter, facebook, flickr and Instagram. If you can’t find her any of those places? Check the couch, she’s probably taking a nap.