"The circus is the only spectacle I know that, while you watch it, it gives the quality of a happy dream." ~ Ernest Hemingway
Yesterday Tim and I visited the Ringling, John and Mable Ringling's home and museums in their winter quarters of Sarasota, FL.
The centerpiece of the compound is Ca'd'Zan, the lavish home the couple built for 1.5 million upon the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. "That's approximately 21 million in today's dollars," said our tour guide.
The complex also includes a museum about the circus and an art museum full of the Baroque masterpieces that the couple purchased on their many trips to Europe where they auditioned new performers for their circus.
A true-to-life diorama of the circus train, the midway and the big top was the first spectacle we saw at the circus museum.
There were also circus parade wagons and the luxurious Pullman train car the Ringlings used as their home on the road.
Interactive displays gave us a chance to try our balancing skills on a tight rope and the bareback of a circus horse.
The Ringling Brothers Circus was aptly named for John and his 4 brothers, sons of German immigrants. The boys were so enthralled by circus performers they saw in their youth that they vowed to someday open their own circus which they did. Not only that, but they eventually purchased P. T. Barnum & Bailey's Circus and the Wild West Show of Buffalo Bill.
John outlived his brothers. He used the success of the circus to invest in oil, ranching, railroads and Florida real estate. Believing that Sarasota would become a world-class tourist destination, there he and Mable built their Venetian Gothic mansion which was the setting for lavish parties for the Ringlings' friends, family and business associates.
At one point in the mid-1920s, it was reported that he was worth $200-million, making him the 13th wealthiest man in America at the time.
Two catastrophes, the fall of the stock market and the bust of the Florida land boom in 1929, wiped out John's fortune. The Ringlings had no children. When he died in 1936, he had only $311 in his bank account, but somehow he held onto his magnificent art museum and his beloved Ca'd'Zan, willing both to the people of Florida.