Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Circus and a Little Culture

I was in my late 40s before I saw my first circus performance. Years ago Denny and I discovered the former winter home of the Ringling Brothers circus in Baraboo, Wisconsin in our travels and that's where I finally went to the circus. I'm pretty sure I embarrassed Denny with my childlike response to the one ring performance, but oh what fun I had! When one of the campground employees reminded us that the Ringling Circus Museum is located in Sarasota and that it would make a nice day trip Denny and I knew we had to make the drive.

The museum complex sits on 66 acres of land right on the waters of Sarasota Bay. While parking is free, the entrance fee is rather stiff at $25 for adults, $20 for seniors and an additional $5 each to tour the second floor of the Ringling Mansion with a docent.

The visitor center houses the ticket area, a museum store, a brief movie about the complex and the Asolo Theater. The Asolo Theater was built in Italy in 1798 and eventually purchased by the Museum and was rebuilt and restored within the complex to be used for movies, lectures, musical ventures and theatrical productions.

Next comes the Tibbals Learning Center with its huge miniature circus housed on the first floor. Taking up about 3800 square feet and built on a scale of 3/4 of an inch to a foot the miniature circus shows every facet of the operation of the circus from transporting the entire structure, employees and animals on the trains to the care of the animals, feeding of the staff, setting up of the tents and displays, doing the shows and circus acts to the tearing down and starting all over again. As you walk around the glassed-in display the lighting dims inside the building to show the 24 hour periods where the entire circus was moved, set up, gave the performance and then tore everything down to move on to the next city and the next performance. There are multiple placards explaining the displays and circus life and the artistry and work that went into creating this miniature extravaganza is incredible. The display was created over a period of 50 years by model maker Howard Tibbals.Some facts imparted by the placards; there were 1300 circus employees that were feed a total of 3900 meals three times a day. They dined on china with real silverware although they were fed at long tables under tents. The menagerie of wild animals and horses and performing dogs were just as well fed and they had their own tents and care areas. There was just so much to absorb here but it really allowed you to understand the huge amount of work that was involved in putting on a performance every day.

The Big Top; not only is the miniature circus exquisitely detailed but several of the displays are animated, including the lady acrobats spinning on their ropes and the horses running around the ring.
Because I can be five years old, I was tickled by the realism of the display, down to the restroom area including the men's urinal. I did mention that this huge display including every facet of the circus, right?

On the second floor of the learning center are posters and artifacts of the Ringling Circus and some of the belongings of the Ringling family.

Because everyone needs a blind money calling card holder.
Next you move on to the Circus Museum which houses the Ringling family Pullman train car that they used for travel as well as a large collection of circus wagons and various types of circus memorabilia. There are docents available who will lead you through the display explaining the history of what you are seeing, or you can simply wander the buildings at will.
Fun house mirrors.Props from the movie "The Greatest Show on Earth". These model train cars were used to create a train wreck scene.

The miniature car driven by Lou Jacobs, the clown. Lou was six feet one inch tall and he drove into the ring in this two foot by three foot car. Do you find it surprising that as a youth he trained as a contortionist?

Wandering down the tree lined driveway we finally arrived at Ca' D' Zan (House of John in Italian), the Ringlings' residence. Wow. Just wow. You can take a self-guided tour of the first floor or you can pay $5 a person to have a docent lead you through the first floor and parts of the second floor. For a $20 per person fee there is another docent led tour that explores even more of the house, including the third floor tower.The terrace is made of imported and domestic marble. All of it.

The central area for entertaining. The chandelier came from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel when it was torn down to make way for the Empire State building.
The ceiling in the dining room.Again, there was so much to see and ogle in this rather decadent display of wealth and lavish decoration. John and Mabel Ringling were enamored of all things Italian and it shows in this house. The exterior of the house is described as being Venetian Gothic but I thought it had a definite Moroccan appearance.

Our final stop in the complex was the Museum of Art which houses a large (literally and figuratively) collection of Rubens, El Greco, Gainsboro and many, many other artists. There are also two rooms that were removed from the Astor Mansion in New York and areas of special rotating exhibitions.Yes, this is Michangelo's state of David from Venice.The library from the Astor Mansion in New York.
There is an incredible amount of artwork and circus memorabilia to take in in one day, but there are plenty of places to simply sit and enjoy your surroundings as well as a restaurant and cafe on the grounds where you can have something to eat to build up your strength for more walking, learning and looking. As I mentioned earlier, it's a bit pricey but very impressive. But then, so was the museum in Baraboo. Do both.

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1 comment:

meowmomma said...

Wow! That's awesome! I'm not really a museum person, but you put just enough information and photo's for me! Very interesting and in fact it might actually be something I might like to see... not too stuffy like other museums!

Thanks for sharing!

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