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  • Writer's pictureJay Hicks

A Day with John and Mable Ringling

Preserved to perfection, no trip to Sarasota is complete without spending the afternoon at the Ringling Mansion, Gardens and Art Museum!

Taking a step back in time, you will have an enjoyable afternoon at the Circus Master’s home in a breathtaking setting.

Don’t miss the movie at the entrance of the estate, as it is informative on the Ringling and the history of the circus. Upon entering the Gardens, the Circus Museum is on the right. Enter through the Main Event entrance and you will discover the Howard Brothers Circus, a ¾-inch-to-the-foot scale replica of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The miniature circus includes a complete reproduction of the 1920s circus. Howard Tibbals asked Ringling management if he could use their name for his circus creation when he started building it, but they refused, and he named it after himself. This phenomenal masterpiece created over 60-year period and was first displayed at the World’s Fair in Knoxville, in 1982. In 2012, Mr. Tibbals was still creating miniatures for the display at the Ringling Estate. At just over a ¼ acre in size, the Howard Brothers Circus is sure to amazes.

Adjacent to this building is the original train car belong to John and Mable Ringling on display for everyone to view and walk-through. You will also find other tremendous historical circus items such as the original Bruno Zacchini's Super Repeating Cannon for shooting the human cannonball.

Leaving these two buildings places you in the heart of the gardens at the Ringling estate. Tremendous displays of palms, Jacaranda, in the ever-present banyan tree provide a triple spectacular triple canopy for you viewing pleasure. Miniature sculptures and unique surprises are found in the nooks and crannies of the garden. There is ample shade and general a cool breeze off the intercoastal water way, comforting even the hottest of days.

Just ahead, in front of Sarasota Bay is the Ca' d'Zan also known as the John and Mable Ringling mansion. The Ca' d'Zan or house of John, will never disappoint, as you are truly propelled back in time. When visiting the Venetian Gothic style mansion, you will experience the very best of the 20s and 30s. The Ca' d'Zan was the winter home, with each room is exquisitely decorated in period architecture and furniture.

If you’re fortunate, they will be offering tours of the upstairs sitting rooms, bedrooms, and baths. It’s a very comfortable tour as the home is air-conditioned. You will see that from the earliest days, this luxurious home featured electricity and running water. The promenade outback is beautiful child in a Romanesque style I lovely dock made from stone and marble going right into the bay. Visiting during the Christmas Holidays is a special treat, as the mansion is elegantly decorated.

After leaving the mansion you should walk through another part of the gardens to the art museum. John and Mable Ringling were master art collectors, often traveling to Europe in the summers, to purchase are. Here you will find five of Peter Paul Rubin’s masterworks on display near the foyer. These massive art pieces are worth the trip alone, but they only represent only five or over 10000 objects on display. 21 galleries of European paintings, antiquities along with Asian, American, and contemporary art are on display. A tremendous variety of paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, photographs, and decorative arts from ancient through contemporary periods and from around the world are found within the museum.

Time at the Ringling is time well spent. Adjacent to the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, you will find the entrance to the estate at 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota.

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