It was dubbed “The Greatest Show on Earth,” and It is said that over its 146 year running, an estimated 250 million spectators came to be wowed and amazed by a Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus performance.
In 1911, John Ringling and his wife, Mable, purchased 20 acres of land in Sarasota, Florida. The couple would spend their winters in Sarasota, and in the 1920s, they became active in the community. Along with John’s brother Charles, John and Mable began purchasing more and more real estate in Sarasota. It is said that at one time, the Ringling’s owned over 25 percent of Sarasota’s total area.
John Ringling, “The King of the American Circus,” died of pneumonia, at age 70, in his home on Park Avenue, in New York City. Upon John’s passing, the Ringling Estate was bequeathed to the people of Florida.
The Circus Museum
Howard C. Tibbals is the artist and sculptor that created the 3/4-inch-to-one-foot scale replica of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Tibbals started working on the circus model in 1956, having much of it completed by 1974. In 1982 Howard Tibbals circus model made its premiere at the World Fair in Knoxville, TN. In 2004, Tibbals set up the Circus at its current location in the Ringling Estate’s Tibbals Learning Center, which includes a full-scale replica of Tibbals’s workshop. It took Tibbals over one year to set up the circus in its current location.
Howard Tibbals tribute to “The Greatest Show On Earth” contains 42,143 items, not including small pieces such as thousands of railroad stakes. It consists of eight large tents, 152 circus wagons, 1,500 workers and performers, 7,000 folding chairs, and more than 500 hand-carved animals. Everything can be packed up into the 55 train cars, also individually hand-crafted. The display even includes seven miniature video stations positioned in various tents with documentary footage of circus life from the 1920s and 1930s.
Watch the Video View of Our Visit
The Circus Museum is also home to the newly restored Wisconsin. Worthy of the man called the “King of the Circus,” the Wisconsin is the railroad car on which John and Mable Ringling traveled across the country looking for feature acts that would keep audiences filling the seats of the big top.
The home to a circus king and his wife, Ca’ d’Zan stands as a testament to the American Dream of the Roaring Twenties. To honor its owner, they named it Ca’ d’Zan, “House of John”, in the dialect of their beloved Venice, Italy.
The Ringlings traveled throughout Europe, acquiring circus acts and art. They both greatly admired Venice’s Ducal Palace’s architectural style, Ca’ d’Oro, and the Grunwald Hotel. When they decided to build a home in Sarasota, Florida, the Ringlings took these palazzi as their inspiration – and Sarasota Bay as their Grand Canal.
One of America’s wealthiest couples, the Ringlings started building Ca’ d’Zan in 1924 and completed it shortly before Christmas in 1926 at the then princely sum of $1.5 million. The 36,000 square foot house sits on a waterfront site 1,000 feet long and 3,000 feet deep. It is five stories tall and has a full basement. At the property’s pinnacle is an 82-foot-high tower with an open-air landing and a high-domed ceiling. Legend has it that John enjoyed taking guests up to the tower to show them his land holdings in Sarasota, which extended nearly as far as the eye could see.
If your jaw drops from the view of the home’s exterior, just wait until you see inside.
The Ringlings were avid art collectors and world travelers, and the home is furnished with pieces collected from throughout their extensive travels. The dining table accommodates 22 chairs. A crystal chandelier from the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel hangs in the living room above a black and white marble tiled floor. There is even an Aeolian organ with 2,289 pipes installed behind curtains in a chamber on the second floor.
Hours, Admission, Location
The Ringling is located at 5401 Bayshore Rd. Sarasota, Fl 34243
- Open daily, 10:00am-5:00pm
- Holidays: Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day.
Museum Admission includes entry to the Museum of Art, Circus Museum, and Bayfront Gardens. This Admission does not include entry to Ca’ d’Zan. Prices: Adult $25 | Senior (65+) $23 | Child (6-17) $5 | Child 5 and under are Free | Members are Free. To include the self-guided tour of Ca’d’Zan add $10
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