Saturday, March 14, 2009


One of the carved animals at the circus museum

After more than thirty-five years, I returned to the Ringling circus museum (the actual name is “The Ringling Museum of the American Circus”) yesterday! I have to say, it was nothing like it was the first time I went but, back then, it was still an operating circus. Today, in addition to the circus museum, there is a wonderful art museum and tours of the mansion Ca d’Zan (which, they say, roughly translates to “John’s House”; I’m not so sure I believe that, though, since I think John in Italian is Giovanni, not Zan!)

Anyway, the house was obviously there 35 years ago (since it was built in 1926 or so for John and Mable Ringling; John being one of the five Ringling Brothers who founded the Ringling Brothers Circus (there were two other brothers who helped out with the circus but did not technically partake in the founding of it) and Mable (his wife). Unfortunately for poor Mable, she passed away a few years after the house was completed so she didn’t get to enjoy it very much. Really, quite unfortunate, as the house is spectacular. We were able to tour some rooms on the lower level and the grounds.
Stunning; and, it reminded me A LOT of the huge mansions on the canals in Venice.

We wandered around the art museum for a bit; HUGE! Not as large as the Uffizi in Florence but certainly one could spend at least three hours in there plus the grounds were also lovely. One thing for sure; John Ringling was kick-ass RICH and had one hell of a collection (which he donated to the state of Florida, I think). The art museum may have been there as well 35 years ago, however, if it was, I don’t remember it. Here is a link to the compound's site.

For me, the best part was the circus museum; mostly because I read “Water for Elephants” not long ago (a great novel which is about a circus in the 1930s). It seemed to us (mom and dad also read the book) that the author must have spent a great deal of time at the Ringling compound conducting research.
In addition to the museum (which housed many of the original circus cars

Band car (was drawn by 40 horses!)
Yep...they shot people out of this cannon at about 120 MPH!

Lion carved on one of the cars
and the Ringling’s private Pullman car (quite fancy),

there is also a huge exhibition hall where there is a model of a circus complex from the 1930s or so. Apparently the man who made the model did so over a period of FIFTY years. As dad noted, someone would have to be REALLY obsessed about something to keep at it for 50 years!

The model

Pictures in The Secret Garden (not sure why it was a secret, but, John and Mabel are buried in this garden)
35 years ago they had an actual big top erected in which were contained the museum’s exhibits. There were also random performers roaming around the grounds. I vividly recall wandering off from my father, step-mom and sister and going outside of the big top. I obviously ended up somewhere that I was not supposed to be. As I was poking about, a male midget of about some advanced years came around the corner wearing a muscle shirt, suspenders, a battered old Fedora and smoking a huge stogie. He looked at me and growled, “Where ya going, little girl?” My reaction (I’m embarrassed to say) was to shriek and run back into the big top.

I didn’t see any midgets yesterday (other than in old pictures), however there were a goodly number of snow birds in motored wheel chairs.
All in all it was a lovely day! We topped it off by going out to a nice restaurant for dinner (where we ended up eating several appetizers and indulging in the two for one drink Happy Hour special rather than actually eating dinner).
As I’ve said several times since I’ve been gone, I sure can’t complain about this vacation (who complains about vacation, anyway?) It’s been a lot of fun!
We head back to Weeki Wachee for a few days tomorrow, then on to Ocala for St. Pat’s day and home on the 18th where I’m sure a very tired and busy Mr. B and energetic (and bored) Pete and Lily will be waiting to welcome us home.
Mrs. B

No comments: