Ringling Circus Museum – Sarasota, Florida

circus wagon.jpgRingling Circus Museum – Sarasota, Florida

Established in 1948 the Circus Museum was the first one in the country to document the rich history of the circus. When you visit the museum you will be enchanted with the opportunity to see the colossal parade and baggage wagons, sequined costumes, and a sideshow banner line that document the circus.  You will see both memorabilia and artifacts of the history of the Ringling family circus.  You will see documents of John Ringling as the Circus King, and the greatest circus movie, The Greatest Show on Earth.  

John Ringling bought the American Circus Corporation in 1929.  This purchase enabled him to be the King of the sawdust rings; he held all of the major circus railroad shows in the United States.

At the Museum you will also be able to see the private Rail car of John and Mable Ringling called the Wisconsin.  It was built in 1905 during the golden age of rail.  You will be able to see the elegance of this type of travel that the Ringlings experienced.

In the Circus Museum’s Tibbals Learning Center you will see an exhibition of circus posters of all sizes.  The posters were used to advertise the circus in windows and even large enough to be on the side of a barn.  It was a great way to let everyone know that the circus was coming to town.

The Howard Bros. Circus Model train is a replica of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Baily Circus from 1919 to 1938.  It was built by master model builder and philanthropist Howard Tibbals over a 50 year period.

Opening in 2012 will be the exhibitions that celebrate circus performers.  It will showcase the magic of the center ring.

Location: 5401 Bay Shore Rd, Sarasota, Florida 34243

Phone: 941-359-5700

garden.jpgWhile in the area be sure to take a stroll around the grounds and garden.  These are works of art that will take your breath away.  There is Mable Ringling’s Rose Garden which is one of the loveliest spots on the estate.  It is 27,225 sq. ft. and was completed in 1913.  It is patterned after a traditional Italian circular garden design.  Today the garden consists of roses introduced between 1867 and 2002.  There are Tree Roses, Hybrid Teas, Floribundas, Grandifloras, miniature roses, shrubs, and Old Garden Roses.  A rose dedicated to Mable Ringling is also featured in the garden.

Just north of the Cà d’Zan Mansion is Mable Ringling’s Secret Garden.  Mable Ringling created this garden with plants that were given to her during her winters at Cà d’Zan.  Here she would entertain guests with tours.  Today, varieties of Bromeliads, Philliline Violets and Variegated Bougainvilleas thrive.


3 Responses

  1. we were the first to marry at the rose garden 1973 or 4

  2. Edward Merrilees

    I was a laborer with the Ringling Circus in 1947, traveling from Erie, PA to Indiana during the summer, which I left for college. I lived in a rail car, stacked its length with bunks 3 high, paid a porter a dollar(?) weekly for soap and water, in a train that was the first in and first out of 4 trains to each location. I worked for Al Welsh, the best boss I ever had, with a group of boys and men in the cook house, setting up and tearing down and waiting table for the laborers who ate there. No performers; they were separated by a canvas wall in the middle, with their gingham table cloths and flower vases, if I remember right. But we all got the same good food, ours served on long oil cloth that we wiped off and rolled up each night. My friends there were very poor and uneducated, and I remember several from Allentown, PA who were amazed that I was leaving a home that they visited with me when I packed that had “carpet” on the floor! Who can I “talk circus” with or record my history? Ed Merrilees

  3. I’ve GOT to get there someday!! I am fascinated with circus history esp. after visiting the Circus World Museum in my beloved childhood summer destination of Baraboo, WI.
    And, now, that the book, “Water for Elephants”, is out, and I have read it and seen the movie, I’m even more hooked.
    Having had a fascination and love of calliopes, hand-carved carousels and such, it just all falls into place. Many photos in the book were from the museum there in Sarasota but I never KNEW. Destination for a someday vacation.
    Oh, and thank you to Ed for the comment above as it just fits along with the history research that the author of “Water for Elephants” did. VERY well written as best I can tell.
    My dream: to ride and elephant as a circus performer does…right up behind the ears…none of that sissy sitting on a “seat” on the back stuff!! :-) I’d read EVERY bit of circus history written if I could get my hands on it AND had more free time. Good stuff!!