Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The greatest show on earth!

I can't remember ever going to the circus when I was a little girl. I don't think my parents could afford to take us. But I remember taking my kids to the circus at least once. There was no big top; the three rings were performed indoors in an arena. Even as an adult, I recall the exhilaration and excitement of the costumes, the music, and the daring performances.

Sarasota, Florida, is the winter headquarters of the soon-to-be defunct Ringling Brothers Circus. In the 1920s, the founder of the circus, John Ringling, adopted Sarasota as his hometown and brought the circus headquarters to Sarasota, after previous winter headquarters in Connecticut, Wisconsin, and Peru, Indiana. (I had forgotten that factoid!)

He and his wife Mable became art connoisseurs after they were married in 1905.  They showed off their collections in their mansion, built on the waters of Sarasota Bay. In 1925, he commissioned the building of  an art museum on the grounds of their Sarasota mansion.

Ringling lost his fortune during the Great Depression, and had only $311 to his name when he died. He refused to sell off his art collection. Instead, he  bequeathed the mansion as well as the art museum to the State of Florida, owned today by Florida State University.

The art museum is free to visitors on Mondays, we discovered. The circus museum, however, is never free, and the cost of admission ($23 for seniors) is the same on Mondays as it is any other day.

I have never studied art, and I admit that given a choice between visiting a circus museum and an art museum, I would opt for the circus. I only appreciate art museums for the historical aspects of the arts, and I like to see how art technique has changed over the centuries (the artist's development of perspective, for example). But, I did not have to choose between visiting one museum over the other, and we were able to tour both museums.

Probably the most interesting exhibit at the art museum was one consisting of thousands of thin, colored ribbons hanging from the ceiling in a dark room. In this interactive exhibit, visitors were invited to walk through the forest of ribbons. It was an amazing experience.
Riding bareback!

The greatest show on earth....in miniature

In addition to the art museum, the estate also has a circus museum, which houses the world's largest miniature circus, as well as circus memorabilia, including circus cars, a calliope, and the luxurious private train car used by Ringling and his wife.

The miniature circus is a work that has taken its creator more than 50 years to put together. It contains thousands of pieces, and gives viewers insight into the behind the scenes operations of the circus. When you see the miniatures, you can appreciate the logistics of moving a circus around the country. About 1,500 people were involved in the circus operations. In addition to the performers, there were cooks, servers, tailors, metal workers, mechanics, animal trainers, and more. The circus was a traveling city that stayed in one place usually only one night at a time.

Back in its day, the circus was the only place most people were able to see exotic animals. Giraffes, lions, elephants, tigers, zebras, apes...they were all part of the menagerie. Back then, keeping animals in cages and training them to do unnatural tricks were not considered inhuman. Today, such activity is considered cruel, and that is a contributing reason why Ringling Brothers Circus is going out of business. No animals, no business.

The circus has changed. Today, Cirque du Soleil is much more to my liking, but I am glad that I was able to take my kids to the "real" circus many years ago. And I am glad I was able to visit the Ringling Museums in Sarasota.

Until later,

Your Reluctant RoVer,

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