If you are making a first-time visit to the Sarasota, Fla., area, be sure to include a stop at The Ringling Museum of Art, Circus Museum, Bayfront Gardens and Ca’d’Zan (That’s the name of the bayside former winter residence of John and Mabel Ringling). The attraction is located at 5401 Bay Shore Road in Sarasota. (See photos above)
Sherry and I were in Florida several days in February to visit her sister Cindy and Cindy’s husband, Mike. They spent January, February and early March in the Sunshine State, trying out condos in various locations and, thereby, missing out on a lot of winter weather at their home in western Illinois. Their condo was on Siesta Key, near Sarasota, when we visited.
Though we didn’t take time to visit The Ringling Museum of Art, all of us spent several hours touring the circus museum and gardens. I continued to enjoy the gardens on a 70-degree day and took a tram ride around the facility while the other three also toured the Ringling mansion.
I’ve seen a lot of circuses in my years and have an appreciation for the people — both those working behind the scenes and the performers — who make them happen. But I wouldn’t call myself a circus fanatic.
Nonetheless, I found the Ringling attraction impressive and well worth my time. Our foursome was there for several hours.
My favorite part was the circus museum, filled with circus memorabilia, all attractively displayed. Photos are permitted if you don’t use your camera’s flash. Among the items to see were glittering circus costumes, ornate circus wagons, videos of performances, a variety of historic circus posters and the 44,000-piece Howard Brothers Circus model.
Many of the displays are interactive. For example, you can try walking on a tight rope or do your best to cram yourself into a small clown car. The attraction also includes cafés and a gift shop.
Museum admission includes entry to the Museum of Art, Circus Museum, Ca’d’Zan and Bayfront Gardens. It’s $25 for adults, $23 for seniors 65 and over, $5 for children ages 6 through 17 and students 18 and over with an ID. Children under 5 are free and admission is only $10 each for U.S. active military and Florida teachers with an ID.
The website is ringling.org and the phone number is 941-359-5700. The museum is open daily from 10 to 5 and until 8 p.m. on Thursdays. The Bayfront Gardens are open from 9:30 until 6. Everything is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
If you aren’t driving to Florida, you can do what we did — take a no-frills, but direct, flight on Allegiant Airlines from Moline to the small airport in Punta Gorda. Fla., about an hour’s drive south of Siesta Key. We flew to Florida on a Sunday and returned home the following Thursday.
An interesting sidelight: The day we visited the Ringling complex I was wearing a University of Okoboji T-shirt. The University of Okoboji is a fictitious university created in the early 1970s by three brothers who printed T-shirts with an “official” school crest. The word “Okoboji” refers to some lakes, including Lake Okoboji, and the town of Okoboji in Iowa’s Great Lakes Region.
Two people saw that shirt, correctly assumed I was from Iowa, and approached me. One man, who said he now lives in Maine, had at one time lived in Marshalltown. Another man said he lives near Lake Okoboji in northern Iowa. He even recited the motto of the fictitious University of Okoboji: “In God We Trust; Everyone Else – Cash.”
Copyright 2015 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.