The Greatest Show on Earth
Who doesn\’t love the circus? At The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art (www.ringling.org) in Sarasota, Florida, you\’ll see the genius behind “the greatest show on earth.”
John Ringling was not only a circus entrepreneur, but also an art
collector and financier whose estate now includes the Museum of Art,
Circus Museum, and Ca d\’Zan mansion, all located on 66 acres
overlooking the sparkling Sarasota Bay.
Ringling\’s art collection, which included paintings by Peter Paul
Rubens, Velazquez, Poussin, Van Dyck, and other Baroque masters, was
left to the people of the State of Florida in 1936. The collection has
since been expanded to include American art, antiquities from Cypress,
Asian ceramics, drawings, photographs, sculpture, and contemporary art.
The Circus Museum was added in 1948, to honor Ringling\’s career as the
circus tycoon who united the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey
circuses in 1907. And the beautiful Venetian Gothic mansion, Ca d\’Zan
(old Italian for “house of John”), which was built between 1924 and
1926 for $1.5 million, offers visitors a glimpse into the wealth and
opulent tastes of its owners. Mable Ringling became enchanted with
Venetian buildings on the couple\’s many travels and personally
collected sketches and photos to incorporate into the design of the
house. What was once the Ringlings\’ winter home has now been completely
restored and includes many of the couple\’s personal possessions on
display in the 32 rooms, six guestrooms, and 15 bathrooms. (When you\’re
in the ballroom, don\’t forget to look up so you won\’t miss the murals
representing the most popular dances of the time.)
While a visit to Ca d\’Zan and the Art Museum are well worth the time
(as an interior design/architecture writer, I was especially taken with
the mansion, which included an informative guided tour), it\’s the
Circus Museum that will probably tickle your fancy the most (especially
if you have children in tow). In 1952, the Academy Award for Best
Picture was given to the film “The Greatest Show on Earth,” which is
still considered the greatest of all circus films. The movie, released
in 1951, used actual footage taken of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum
& Bailey Circus on the road and in Sarasota at its winter quarters.
Inside the Circus Museum you\’ll see not only photographs of the filming
and model trains created by Paramount Studios for the train crash scene
in the movie, but also vintage circus posters, an exhibition on the
history of the American circus, videos and interactive displays, and
the Howard Bros. Circus, the largest miniature circus in the world,
built to scale and including 55 railroad cars, 8 circus tents, 130
circus wagons, a 200-animal menagerie, and 1,500 artists and
workers—all an authentic replica of Ringling Bros. and Barnum &
Bailey Circus during the late 1930s. (For those who have their own
circus fantasies, sign up for a class at the Flying Trapeze Academy
& The Flying Fantasy Circus.)
Of course, you can\’t visit the Sarasota area and ignore the beaches;
located along Southwest Florida\’s Gulf Coast, Sarasota is situated
between Tampa and Ft. Myers and is comprised of a string of eight
islands—Sarasota, Longboat Key, Lido Key, St. Armands Key, Manasota
Key, Siesta Key, Casey Key, Englewood, Nokomis, North Port, Osprey, and
Sarasota\’s reputation as a beachlovers\’ paradise is well-deserved. On
Siesta Key, for example, you\’ll find the baby powder-white sands of
Siesta Key Beach, Crescent Beach, and Turtle Beach. It\’s no wonder that
the area is consistently recognized as one of the best beach
destinations in the country. And there\’s still yet more to do in
Sarasota, some of her other attractions including:
• Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, www.selby.org, a world orchid center with more than 20,000 exotic tropical plants on Sarasota\’s downtown waterfront.
• Mote Aquarium, www.mote.org, with a shark habitat, manatee and sea turtle exhibits, stingray touch pool, and a new high-tech cinema.
• Sarasota Jungle Gardens, www.sarasotajunglegardens.com, the city\’s oldest attraction with bird and reptile shows and a kiddie jungle.
• Asolo Theater Company, www.asolo.org, performing a repertory of classics and new works at the Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts.
And for a relaxing afternoon or evening, visit charming St. Armands
Circle on St. Armands Key, where you can enjoy dining al fresco and
then browse the many upscale shops (there are enough ice cream stores
though to keep the little ones busy while you\’re window shopping). Free
jazz concerts are held on Friday evenings.
If You Go
Air Tran (www.airtran.com)
offers affordable flights and you can also upgrade to business class
for not much more money—why not spring for the added comfort!
For more information on Sarasota and her attractions, visit See Sarasota, www.SEE-Sarasota.com.