Death defying, spectacular, the greatest show on earth. The circus was a part of my childhood, heck everyone has heard of the name Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey. Ethics aside, when I heard the circus was coming to an end this year it was shocking. When visiting Sarasota I was very interested to learn about the history of the business at The Ringling Museum [5401 Bay Shore Rd, Sarasota, FL 34243].
The five Ringling brothers from a small town were so moved by seeing the grand circus roll in they created their own.
First as children just playing, but their imaginative games would grow into an empire. There is a great film and informational panels to learn in depth about the brothers. A ginormous miniature exhibit was a fascinating platform to discuss what it takes to move the circus into town.
The circus traveled with 1,300 works, 800 animals, equipment, could travel up to 15,000 miles, and perform in 150 towns! The planning involved is almost frightening. The colorful costumes of the performers were dazzling.
Artifacts ranged from huge clown shoes and a clown car (that you can actually crawl inside), to a human cannonball launching car and real train cars that would move the show along.
This museum is a stellar attraction you can spend an entire day at, learning so much more than circus facts. The estate was home to the youngest brother, John Ringling and his wife Mable. You can tour their home for an additional fee, or admire its exquisite architecture from on the patio by the bay.
The couple collected art in their travels throughout Europe and there is a (huge!) full on art museum ranging from classic to contemporary. Outside is as amazing as in. Marvel at the pink Florentine style buildings that surround a courtyard filled with Greek and Roman sculptures.
Inside you will discover some unique and quality works.
On the classical side I was happy to see two of my favorites from a series by Giusseppe Arcimboldo – who uses fruits for faces.
More contemporary I noticed an exhibit with a clip from one of my favorite poems by Lord Byron,
‘There is pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is rapture on the lonely shore’
(It goes on: There is society where none intrudes, By the deep Sea, and music in its roar: I love not Man the less, but Nature more,)
The piece was titled Pathless Woods and was interactive. There were streams of ribbon in a dark room and you can wander in and through them, they go for quite some time so you can almost feel lost in the rainbow woods. Lots of fun.
Another interesting aspect of the museum which could almost be missed was the Dwarf Garden. Located at the end of the circuit, just as you cross the bridge to leave there is a little passage way to enter it. It was quiet, I had it all to myself in its meditative beauty.
In the pond across from the garden there were numerous turtles, including softshell, and even a kingfisher!
There is always wonderful wildlife in Florida. Whether you’re a circus fan, art lover, history fanatic, or just plain in Sarasota – this is a must see attraction.