Ringling Bros. Circus

I wasn’t all the enthused about going to a circus museum, but WOW! Patricia and I were totally amazed by the splender and beauty of some of America’s most treasured and beloved memorabilia of times long ago. This museum displays Americana circus history and all its wonderment now preserved for generations to come. If you are ever within a day’s ride of Sarasota, Florida, this museum is a must see. Plan on five to six hours to see the museum, the Tibbals Learning Center, and the Ringling’s estate.
The Ringling Circus Empire was founded by five brothers from Wisconsin. In the late 1860s, the brothers saw their first circus show ever, and in 1884, the brothers premiered their own show and charged a penny for admission. In less than a decade, the Ringling Bros. Circus, World’s Greatest Show, developed from a small wagon show in 1884 to a major railroad show covering most of the United States and Canada.
P. T. Barnum and James A. Bailey teamed together in 1888 to create “The Greatest Show on Earth” and they became the undisputed Kings of the American Circus. Moving from town to town on 64 railroad cars, the Barnum & Bailey Circus was supreme and unchallenged. They defined the American circus with the introduction of the three rings, breaking with the European tradition of a single ring.
With the acquisition of the Barnum and Bailey show, the Ringling Brothers dominated the circus business in North America. The two circuses were run as separate shows until 1919 when they were combined to form the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, The Greatest Show on Earth.
John and Mabel Ringling’s mansion is a tribute to the American Dream and reflects the splendor and romance of Italy which they both loved. Described as “the last of the Gilded Age mansions” to be built in America, Ca’ d’Zan has 56 incredible rooms filled with art and original furnishings sitting on 20 acres of prime waterfront property.
In 1924, construction began on Ca’ d’Zan, which means “House of John” in Venetian dialect. The house was completed just before Christmas 1925, at a cost of $1.5 million.
The Tibbals Learning Center: the largest miniature circus in the world complete with eight main tents, 152 wagons, 1,300 circus performers and workers, more than 800 animals and a 57-car train, is on permanent display in the Ringling Circus Museum’s Tibbals Learning Center. The model was created over a 50-year time span by master model builder Howard Tibbals.
There is also an art museum on the estate separate from the Ringling’s operation. The property is now owned by the state and managed by the university. You’ll also find a café and a coffee shop (Starbucks – yeah) above the gift shop near the main entrance. Parking is free. Final note: We told several locals above our visit. Not a one of them had ever heard of it 😦

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