After over forty years in Florida we finally made the time to visit Sarasota Florida and spent a day at The Ringling. The estate is focused on the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art but the estate is actually a 66-acre museum complex featuring the State Art Museum of Florida, The Circus Museum and Education Center, the Ringling’s Ca’ d’Zan mansion, and Bayfront Gardens. At $22 admission it’s a great value and an experience worth returning to over and over again.
Sarasota has meant circus for almost one hundred years. First, the city became the Winter Quarters for The Greatest Show on Earth with its thousands of workers, performers and associated infrastructure. Later it became a tourist attraction centered on the Circus Museum and today it is know as the city that John Ringling built.
John Ringling was one of the five brothers who owned and operated a circus called “The Greatest Show on Earth.” His success with the circus and entrepreneurial skills helped to make him, in the Twenties, one of the richest men in America, with an estimated worth of nearly $200 million. In 1911, John and his wife, Mable, purchased 20 acres of waterfront property in Sarasota. In 1912, they began spending winters in what was then still a small town and years later Sarasota became the Winter home of the circus.
In the early 1900s three of the five Ringling brothers died unexpectedly. John Ringling in 1918, after hardships caused by WWI and the flu pandemic, made the decision to merge the Ringling Bros World’s Greatest Shows and the Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth into one giant circus. On October 8, 1918 the Ringling Bros. season concluded in Georgia and the various circus trains were routed to the Barnum & Bailey Winter Quarters in Bridgeport, Connecticut. and on March 29, 1919, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus opened in Madison Square Garden in New York City.
John and Charles Ringling had been speculating on Florida real estate and John and his wife Mable had built their mansion and a world class art museum in Sarasota. Partly to boost the value of their real estate holdings they decided to move the Greatest Show On Earth’s Winter Quarters to Sarasota, Florida in 1925. Although a resident of Sarasota, Charles died in 1926 before the move was complete. With the death of brother Charles, John was now the last of the Ringling brothers.
The success of the circus and the the greatest show of all, the incredible Ringling Bros, Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus continued well into the 1970s when changing times and public tastes began to have an impact on the circus business. Even today the circus still has the power to fascinate people and continues to draw people to Sarasota’s The Ringling.