Rule #20 – Draw inspiration from anything and everything
A trip to Sarasota was in the baseball cards this past March. Yes, I saw the Orioles play; but this year, I saw them in two different stadiums. The baseball was great and the baby Birds looked good… now if they can only stay healthy. Now many of you may wonder how much baseball a person can tolerate. What can someone do on the days off? Golfing is an option, but I don’t golf. But I do like to get into the local history of all the places I visit. Sarasota is the same – and there is plenty of local history on the Gulf Coast of Florida.
It seems that Sarasota Florida was the winter home of the circus. Each winter season, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus would make camp the in Sarasota area to stay warm, practice, and develop new acts. During that time, performers would get some much needed rest. They could stay in one place for more than a few days at a time.
In the early 1920’s, John Ringling and his wife, Mabel, fell in love with Sarasota and decided to have their winter home built here. They commissioned Dwight James Baum to design the home and Owen Burns to build it. The result was a combination design of Venetian palazzo and Middle Eastern palace with Sarasota Bay as the transportation canal. Building began in 1924 and finished just before Christmas 1926. The finished product is an estate, with Casablanca flair. What they built in the 1920’s is now the Ringing Museum complex, with a circus museum, art museum, performance venue, walking trails and gardens, and a mansion that rivals anything you’ve ever seen.
Entrance of the Ringling Museum, Sarasota FL
|Lions guard the entrance|
Pull up to the front of the Ringling Museum and prepare yourself for a day of memories. Enter by land, Gatsby-style. Walk on to the property and head into the circus museum to your right. Here you get the chance to revisit your childhood circus dreams, with posters and playbills from the past. Stroll into the Tibbals Learning Center and immerse yourself in the circus times of the 1919 through 1938. You will find a 3800-square -foot miniature train garden with over 44,000 hand-made pieces. The detail in the train model is authentic. The activities displayed around the big top are down to the smallest detail. You will spend at least one hour touring this portion of the museum alone, learning about how the circus crew would set up the area with tents, trailers, and cages. The circus was a traveling city of its own.
|Tibbals Learning Center entrance to the Circus Museum|
|Circus posters from towns across the country|
Model of the circus big top, center ring action
|Model of the circus chow tent - a performer has to eat too!|
|Parade into the Big Top|
|Detailed model of the entrance to a circus show tent|
In the circus museum, you will also find memorabilia from the early years of performances. A horse-drawn band wagon and calliope look like they can still draw a crowd to the circus parade. In an interactive portion of the circus museum, you can try your hand – or foot – at walking the tight rope, or riding bareback, or stuffing a clown car with people. Watch a video and transform yourself into a clown. The circus of today is not much different when you think of the types of performances, but the life of a circus performer certainly is.
|Calliope wagon from the early 1900's|
Now take the time to hike past the banyan trees given to the Ringlings by Thomas Edison. These were mere saplings when John and Mabel lived here. Now, you walk past the set of the “Lion King”. The forest of banyans swallowed up some of the Ringling garden statuary. Walk among the trees and find many small surprises tucked into the roots of the trees.
|Banyan trees - courtesy of Thomas Edison|
Ca D’Zan, home of John and Mabel Ringling
Next stop on your tour is Ca D’Zan, the Ringling Mansion. So far, you strolled toward Sarasota Bay and you can feel the temperature change as you near the water. Here, you have the option of a self-guided tour of the first floor only, or a paid guided tour that includes the second floor rooms. My advice? Spend the extra few dollars and tour the second floor. The first floor rooms are decorated to showcase the wealth of the circus owners. They are meant to impress visitors. As you tour the first floor, you are just waiting for a party to start. Go to the second floor and learn more about the owners of the Ringling Circus. See marble bath tubs and bath rooms. Walk on Italian marble staircases. Learn about how John and Mabel’s personal tastes are reflected in their bedroom décor. Pretend you are a guest of the Ringlings when you get to the guest bedrooms. And don’t forget to admire the tapestries hung in the second floor hallways. The Ringlings collected art masterpieces from all over the world. Their home became their showcase.
|Main entertainment area for the Ringlings|
|Display of treasures from all over the world|
|John Ringling's marble bathtub|
|Pull your yacht up to the dock on Sarasota Bay|
|Join us for cocktails on the veranda|
Outside the house, walk around to the Secret Garden, to see more surprise treasures worked into the landscape. Stroll out on the rear piazza of the home. Imagine you are arriving for your visit by yacht and mooring at the Ringling dock. Step right up and become entranced by what you see. Walk into the Rose Garden, and find almost every type of rose available today. Many roses are hybrids and tea roses, and are used in the décor of the house.
The formal layout for the Rose Garden
Past the Rose Garden, you will see the Art Gallery. The Ringlings collected so many masterpieces that they could not display all of them in their home. So John Ringling commissioned a three-wing art gallery be built on his property. All the art treasures are now located in the Gallery. Plan to spend several hours admiring Renaissance art from the masters.
When I visited, I spent approximately six hours at the museum and only made it through the first floor of the Circus Museum, the Ca D’Zan house, some of the grounds, and a quick walk (or jog) through one wing of the Gallery. You better believe that next year I’m going back. I’ll start by planning my visit using the museum website, www.ringling.org. Here I can plan my route, check for garden programs for the young (and those of us young at heart), check for featured art displays, and more.
Step right up, boys and girls of all ages, and be amazed!
Photos are the property of Marge McGugan. No reuse or reprint without permission.
Parts are reprinted from "A View from the Passenger's Seat" by Marge McGugan, Arden on the Severn Newsbuoy, May-June 2015 issue.