Circus Museum in Sarasota

John and Mable Ringling Circus Museum

The Ringling Brothers Circus used to winter in Sarasota, Florida. John and Mable Ringling built a mansion here. The Ringling mansion, Art Museum, Circus Museum and a beautiful Rose Garden, all on a 66 acre estate, were left to the State of Florida on John Ringling’s death. The property is managed by Florida State University and is open to the public.

The photo here is a dummy on a bike on a wire at the entrance to the Circus Museum’s Tibbals Learning Center. High wire circus performers did a lot of things on the wire. Some did ride bikes, others juggled, and some sat on chairs. All videos and all photos except the circus wagon close-up on this lens were made by me. The one exception was made by my husband.

The Greatest Show on Earth Movie

Circus Museum gallery exhibit honoring the movie “The Greatest Show on Earth”. Cecil B. DeMille produced, directed, and narrated the movie. At the 25th Academy Awards it won the Oscar for Best Picture.

The movie featured Charlton Heston, Jimmy Stewart, Tony Curtis and Betty Hutton among other movie stars. The movie was made in Sarasota, Florida, and the real Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus’ 1951 troupe of 1400 people and hundreds of animals appear in the film. The gallery has a wall of still images captured during the making of the film.

The movie can be seen on a tv set up in the display. “The Greatest Show on Earth” shows what it is like to live the circus life. I saw the movie when it was first released and really liked it.

John and Mable Ringling

John was one of seven brothers that started The Ringling Brothers Circus in 1884. The small circus began in Baraboo, Wisconsin. They quickly became a financial success because of their reputation for honesty. The ticket sellers were not allowed to short change the customers. The Ringlings didn’t have games of chance that conned customers, either.

The decision to buy two railroad cars in 1889 allowed the circus to travel between big cities and skip the small towns. That gave them larger audiences and increased the profits. The Ringlings bought the Barnum & Bailey Circus and merged the two circuses in 1919. At that time their winter quarters were in Bridgeport, Connecticut. During those early years John Ringling was the advance man and Charles Ringling was the manager.

John and Mable Burton were married in 1905, but never had children. The last of John’s brothers died in 1926 leaving him the sole owner of the circus. The following year he moved the winter headquarters to Sarasota, Florida, where he and his wife had a winter home and a museum building for their art collection. The Ringlings named their 30 room mansion Cà d’Zan which means “The House of John” in a Venetian dialect.

Ringling lost almost all his fortune during the Great Depression in 1929. His wife Mable died in 1929 and he died in 1936. Ringling left Cà d’Zan, the museum, and his art collection to the state of Florida.

Ringling Circus Museum Gallery

This gallery is a large room with several circus wagons, some circus railroad cars, and some circus animals used on merry-go-rounds. The circus wagons were pulled by horses and carried all the belongings of circus performers. They also carried everything the circus needed to set up their “city” as they moved from place to place to perform. This video was made May 5, 2009.

Circus Wagons

Many of the circus wagons were a work of art themselves. This photo we made today at the Ringling Circus Museum shows one of the fabulous wagons. The wood wagon, pulled by a team of horses, was decorated with raised sculptures like these women. All was painted and then gold gilt paint was also applied.

The Human Cannon Ball

Ringling Circus Museum gallery with more circus wagons, the human cannonball truck, and a map of the winter circus grounds in Sarasota, Florida. The map shows one main road through a large tract of land with tents set up for every business you would find in a city.

I always thought circus people would use the businesses and facilities like blacksmiths and doctors in the towns they worked. But, that was wrong. The big circuses like Ringling, were a world unto themselves. They carried huge tents for everything from kitchens, diningrooms, and blacksmiths to doctors.

Circus Side Show Posters

These large posters in my video showed the people with birth defects and abnormalities known as “Circus Freaks”. There was no medical cure for them in the 1800s and early 1900s. The people found a home with the circus and earned a living, too.

Human Cannonball and Circus Side Show

Lets see how many of us have seen the extreme exhibits of a circus. The Side Show had acts like sword swallowing and knife throwing as well as people born with physical abnormalities. They included the bearded woman, extremely tall people, midgets, grossly obese people, the man with three legs, and Siamese twins (conjoined). They were all displayed in the Side Show.
Ever see a human cannonball or circus sideshow?

Circus Winter Quarters in Sarasota, Florida.
This map, hanging in the Circus Museum building, shows the Ringling Circus winter quarters in Sarasota, Florida. You can see the railroad tracks in the lower right corner. That was the circus’s means of transportation out of Florida to the big cities where it performed.

It amazed me that the circus had its own hospital, upper left corner of map, Aviary, middle right of map, wagon building facilities and canvas waterproofing facilities, middle left of map. They could even repair their railroad cars themselves. The circus was a city within a city.

Tibbals Learning Center, Sarasota, Florida (2 of 2 buildings)

Howard Brothers Miniature Circus

The Howard Brothers Circus took Howard Tibbals 50 years to build. It is the world’s largest miniature circus with 8 main tents, 152 circus wagons, 1,300 performers and workers, 800 animals and a 59 car train. It occupies 3,800 square feet. This video that shows the Posters on the Side Show tent and the way people moved down the Midway to the Main Tent.

Another Look at the Miniature Circus

The theme for Howard Tibbals miniature circus is a day in the life of the circus. Tibbals based it on the real Ringling Bros Circus. The lights dim and go off to simulate an actual day. It’s fun to see all the circus people relaxing and going about daily lives as well as performing.

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