Monday, December 19, 2016

Florida Gulf Coast, Ringling Bros Museum

We settled in at the LazyDays RV Resort and took it easy for the first night.  Friday we drove over to Carolyn & Mann's home in Redington Shores, FL.  They live 34 miles from the campground and it took us over an hour to drive there before rush hour.  We were on Interstates for most of the way and then local streets for about 10 miles or so.  Lots and lots of traffic in the area.

Carolyn gave us the grand tour of their new home and then we sat around catching up on what's been going on since we last saw them.  Later on we went to Conch Republic restaurant along the Gulf shore.  It was quite large and very busy but we were seated quickly.  I ordered a catfish dinner and enjoyed it very much.  Gerry said her coconut shrimp was a better choice but I can't eat shrimp. (Gerry did add that she thinks the coconut shrimp at Kelly Magillis' restaurant in Key West is still the best.) We all enjoyed our meals and sat around chatting until we left before they ran us out.

Mann took us on a ride around the neighborhood to see the beautiful Christmas decorations and then it was time to head back to the campground.  It was a short visit but we never stopped talking and had a good time.

Saturday our son and his family along with friends of theirs drove over from Kissimmee, FL and we joined them in a journey down to Sarasota to see the Ca' d' Zan mansion and the Ringling Bros. museum.  We spent all afternoon there and could easily have stayed longer except they closed the place down.  Since we took so many photos, I will write about the mansion in another post.

We took advantage of this huge mural at the entrance to the museum to get a family photo of Larry Jr., Jane and Grant.  Grant is getting taller and it looks like he may pass Larry Jr who is 6' 3 1/2", very soon.

 The "Big Top" circus traveled by train in the beginning and it was  a huge operation.  They had specially designed rail cars to transport the camels, elephants, hundreds of horses and exotic animals.  The entrance to the Big Top museum area had a very long model train exhibit.

Unloading a wagon from the train

Wide angle shot of the large tent.

Entrance to the big show.

Guess what this is.

 The "Big Tent" had seating for 15,000 patrons and was huge with multiple acts going on at the same time.  It would have been a grand sight to see.  We used to have smaller circus groups stop for a day when we were very young and I remember sneaking into a tent one day.  If they caught you they would make you regret even trying to avoid paying.

Multiple acts going on in the big tent.

Caring and feed some of the hundreds of horses that travel with the circus.

 The band would come into the tent playing music, hence getting on the band wagon.  The one here was over 100 years old and looked to be in great shape.

 We found one of the would be circus clowns trying to drive this little car.  He barely fit in and had trouble getting out of the car. 

 There was an actual high wire on the floor for the kids to walk on.  I think they each made it across once out of multiple tries.

We ran out of time in the museum and had a ticket to tour the Mansion at 4pm so we didn't see all of it.  I would plan on spending a day at least to see the Mansion, Museum and Art building.  It isn't cheap, but it was worth it.

It was very hot and humid walking around the grounds and I was soaking wet.  The gardens were well manicured and taken care of and had benches all over.  I think I sat in every one of them.

History of the Circus Museum

It was thought to be ostentatious for a man of John Ringling’s generation to bring attention to the source of his wealth. As a result, the idea of a Museum celebrating the history of the American Circus was not Ringling’s but A. Everett “Chick” Austin Jr.’s, The Ringlings’ first Director and a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.

Established in 1948, the Ringling Museum of the American Circus was the first to document the rich history of this phenomenally popular entertainment. And because in 1927 John Ringling had made Sarasota the Winter Quarters of the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey® Circus, many of the performers moved to the immediate area. As a result of their generosity, the Museum’s collection of wardrobes and circus memorabilia quickly grew.

Today, the Circus Museum is 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.
Visitors to the museum will find performers’ wardrobes, performing props, as well as all types of equipment, including beautifully carved parade wagons, sturdy utility wagons, tent poles, massive bail rings that suspended the tent canvas and even a cannon that shot fearless performers across the big top. There is also an incredible wealth of 19th and early 20th century posters and props used by famous performers as well as a large collection of circus history and literature that includes newspaper clippings dating as far back as 1816. A must-see in the Museum is the film The Life and Times of John and Mable Ringling, narrated by Hal Holbrook. It features the lives of John and Mable Ringling, the history of Ringling Bros. circus, the building of the Ca' d’Zan and the Museum of Art, as well as John’s influence in the development of Sarasota.

In January of 2006, the Circus Museum Tibbals Learning Center opened to house posters, special exhibitions and its centerpiece – the 3,800 square foot Howard Bros. Circus Model, a 44,000-piece re-creation of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Circus combined shows from 1919-1938.
The Tibbals Learning Center also houses The Greatest Show on Earth, a 924-square-foot mural depicting the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® show of the 1970s and 80s. Donated by the Feld family and Feld Entertainment Inc., the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey®, this colossal work salutes such feature acts as aerialist Dolly Jacobs, her father, master clown Lou Jacobs, and the celebrated animal presenter Gunther Gebel-Williams.

In 2012, a west wing was added to the Tibbals Learning Center. Here, visitors to these interactive galleries can walk the wire, squeeze into a clown car and have their picture take with a faux tiger.
The 12,000-square-foot second floor houses the Archives that houses one of the country’s most important collections of rare handbills and art prints, circus papers, business records, heralds and photos.

So much of this has been made possible by the generosity of Howard Tibbals and his wife Janice. Tibbals fell in love with the circus as a boy and devoted his life to creating the miniature circus and lending his family name to the Learning Center.

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