Ringling

Ringling Brothers’ Winter Quarters Shamefully Evicted by Sarasota County Commissioners (Part 4 of 4)

If you missed part one, get caught up HERE.

If you missed part two, get caught up HERE.

If you missed part three, get caught up HERE.


The uniqueness, mystery, glamour, and sense of adventure the Ringling Brothers brought to my old hometown are all gone. And in their place, so many petty deed restrictions that in some neighborhoods, homeowners aren’t allowed to park a lowly pickup in front of their house or even paint their front door red, let alone rig up high wires or trapezes. Satin, sequins, and pink sawdust are history, replaced by couture resort wear and all manner of pretension.

But, when the circus came to our town, now that was an altogether different story.  Sarasota could still be Circus City, U.S.A., if not for those few who deemed it not an honor that they chose to live among us and a magical gift to the city but rather dismissed as a separate world of unpresentable Showfolk misfits. 

Lest the reader think the writer shares the current “hate the rich” sentiment, quite the opposite is true.  There are a multitude of examples in the U.S. where the affluent have “discovered” a colorful, “unspoiled” town, blended in, and put forth much effort and cash into nurturing and preserving its identity, not wanting to run off the local people who have made it interesting and unique. Unfortunately, this has not been true of Sarasota.[2] 

The dangling carrot of a Big Payoff has motivated thousands of inventors, entrepreneurs, and visionaries who have risked and amassed both great and small fortunes in America.  And they have been the grease that oils the wheels of our nation, producing millions of jobs and thousands of innovations. As Donald Trump says, “We all have to think.  We might as well think big!”  No one knew this better than John Ringling, the greatest showman America has ever produced.  

Those of us who grew up under the influence of those days and had the good fortune of thrilling to the 3-ring extravagant, lush, fantastic Ringling shows are fully aware of all the bountiful gifts John Ringling lavished on Sarasota and are extremely grateful to him and all his Show folks. My parents took me to Madison Square Garden to see the circus during its “pink year.” I was dazed and thrilled and believed we’d stepped through a magic portal into an enchanted country. Everything in that mammoth Garden was a dazzling pink. The sawdust, the lights, the costumes…and I can still see it all these decades later as vividly as it was that night.  Those three huge rings, all with fabulous activity going on, were so incredible, I didn’t know where to look, so had to keep swinging my pigtails back and forth, trying to keep up with it all. 

From circus performers, we learned if we wanted to develop our talents, we had to be brave, work hard, practice long hours daily, and never, ever give up, no matter what the handicap or obstacle. If you fall down, get right back up again and always lend a hand. As Bruno Zacchini puts it: “Circus people always help each other. We know we better stop and help that guy broken down by the side of the road, cause one day it’s gonna be us that’s broke down.”

Ringling’s mansion, Ca d’Zan, the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, and the Circus Museum sit on sixty acres of carefully tended grounds along Sarasota Bay.   They are protected and maintained by the State of Florida and open to the public.  The John Ringling Hotel has been torn down despite valiant efforts by locals to save it.  Ringling Causeway still spans Sarasota Bay. (Ringling used circus elephants to place the pillars for the original Ringling Causeway, leading to Bird Key, St. Armand’s Circle, and south Longboat Key, all his pet projects.)

Charles Ringling, John’s brother, also made the most generous contributions to Sarasota.  Even long-time Sarasota residents may not be aware that Ringling Boulevard was named after Charles.  Also, the former Sarasota Terrace, a hotel across from the Courthouse, was built by Charles.  It is now used as an adjunct to the Courthouse.     Some years back, a quiet attempt to change the name of the John Ringling Causeway Bridge to that of a local developer backfired as public outcry won out.  Somewhere, the World’s Greatest Showman is smiling.

Photo courtesy of The Historical Marker Database

Karen has written eleven Cajun crime novels. All on Amazon and Kindle.

[2]Later, area commercial fishermen had to go, but that’s another story for another day.

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Circus City, Florida, Growth, History, Ringling Brothers, Sarasota, Venice Florida

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