Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Travel Time: Ringling Circus Museum and John Ringling's House of John on Sarasota Bay, FL

In the Ringling Circus Museum, the calliope and stilt walking performer costume are from the Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus circa 1918-1938
Ladies and Gentlemen--Welcome to your arm chair travel tour of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus and John Ringling's home on Sarasota Bay. My husband and I spent a few days over New Year's in the Sarasota, Florida area and loved it. We winter only two hours north of Sarasota and yet, the feeling in the Sarasota air is so different. Much more tropical and lush than where we are. Gorgeous flowers and landscaping. So green.  I thought I was in Ireland. (Okay, I'm sure you Irishmen don't have palm trees and hibiscus, but I do envision Ireland as green and gorgeous too.)

Today I am sharing some of the photos we took on our small adventure. (Also today I am a guest at Penny Ehrenkranz blog, so click on over when you get done here. Thanks!) So sit back and picture the colorful sights and sounds of the circus as you munch your popcorn and eat that delicious cotton candy. Can you hear the circus band, the elephant trumpeting, the excited buzz of the crowd waiting for the first parade of performers and wild exotic animals? Oh yes, I'm sure you can imagine the smells of the saw dust, the earthy perfume emanating from the animals, and oh the delightful fragrance of fried onions and popcorn.

The performer in the picture above would definitely be found in the opening parade called the spec. The circus always packed as many performers and animals into the spec to wow the audience. What a sight to see. The calliope, which circus people pronounce as callie-ope, was always the last wagon in the parade. Can you hear it as it exits the big top and performers take their places in the three center rings? So much excitement and magical sights to take in, it almost overloads our senses. 

Me and my favorite wagon, the calliope

Below, the band rides the music wagon in the parades. 

Did you ever watch the circus train arrive in town, then follow the elephants and performers as they paraded through town? Did your parents let you stay to watch the workers set up the big tents?

Musicians sit atop the music wagon.  What superior craftsmanship is on display in the construction and decorations.

There is so much to see in the Ringling Circus Museum. I only shared a couple of photos with you. We moved on to Mabel Ringling's rose garden taking in the scents and vibrant blooms on display surrounding the lovely gazebo in the center.
Just one of the gorgeous plants in the over 25,000 square foot Mabel Ringling's rose garden.

The House of John (Ca' d'Zan) is the name of the gorgeous Italian influenced Ringling Mansion overlooking Sarasota Bay.

The walk up to the front of the house.

The front entrance emulates the Mediterranean architecture found in Venice and Spain.

The back of the mansion overlooks Sarasota Bay. The floor is stone imported from Italy.

Sarasota Bay

The Circus Miniature and Interactive Galleries are housed in the Tibbals Learning Center. All of you kids-at-heart will be giddy when you walk into the 3800 square foot room filled with the Howard Bros Circus Model. The design and set-up is based on the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey circus as it presented its Big Show in 1919-1938. The model is 3/4 inch-to-the-foot scale featuring eight circus tents and 42,000 objects--including the 7000 tiny folding chairs that seats the circus goers under the Big Top. The photo taken below was taken from the second story of the Tibbals Center looking down on the miniature circus. Notice the twinkling lights because this shot was taken as dusk falls over the circus-scape. After a few minutes, the house lights are brightened for a daytime look at the circus. 

You can spot the big top circus tent (center right) where all the magical performances in the three center rings are displayed. Sadly my photos cannot show you the craftsmanship and detail by the artist, Howard Tibbals, circus historian and philanthropist. He has worked on this model over fifty years and continues his work in its present day permanent location at the Tibbals Center. (Yes, he toured with it. Can you imagine packing this model up and then setting it all up over and over again in another location? His work is truly a delight to see.)

Unloading supplies from the train and pulling it to the circus location.

Fruits and veggies for the circus workers and animals. Ordered way ahead of time to be sure to have 1000  pounds of meat each day!

Dining tent--no paper plates and cups or dishwashers in 1918!

Side show and vendors keep the crowd happy before the Big  Show begins.

Remember the Bearded Lady and the two-headed horse? LOL

Animals in their cages waiting to perform their very special acts.
Whether you have never been to a circus or if you are an aficionado of this exotic performance art, you will love the Ringling Circus Museum. The artifacts, posters, memorabilia are everywhere to jog your memory and nostalgia of the circus days. After visiting this museum, I wonder if I made the wrong decision NOT to run away and join the circus!

The 1952 film, The Greatest Show on Earth starrring Cornell Wilde, Charlton Heston, Jimmy Stewart, and Betty Hutton, was filmed in Sarasota with the Ringling Bros. Circus as the backdrop. You may have figured out that this is one of my all-time favorite movies. That may be the only way I will experience being a part of the circus. I can also recommend the book, Water for Elephants, as a great circus read!

If you get in the Sarasota area, be sure to take time to see the Circus Museum. Besides the museum and mansion, there is also an Art Museum and historic which we did not have time to visit. Perhaps next time...Tip--The Art Museum is free and open to the public every Monday.

1 comment:

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Lovely photos, Janet. Looks like a magical place.

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