The Day the Circus Came to Town

“LADIES and Gentlemen!!  Welcome to Siesta Key 611, the Greatest Vacation Rental on Earth!!”

Okay, legal disclaimer time:  this is meant as a parody of the the Ringmaster’s opening speech at Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus and not a statistically-valid claim as to the relative ranking of Siesta Key 611 versus other area accommodation, even though in my admittedly biased view, 611 actually is the Best with a capital B.

So why the reference to the Ringling Brothers’ Greatest Show on Earth?

Well, if you’ve not visited Sarasota before, you may not know about its historical connection to the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, a connection that has a profound impact on the cultural life and architecture of Sarasota to this day and which offers the visitor to Siesta Key 611 some wonderful opportunities for excursions other than to the beach.   As a Siesta Key resident told me, “I like it here because this isn’t a one horse town.”

In 1911, John and Mable Ringling purchased 20 acres of land in Sarasota and, smart folks that they were, started spending winters here.   Those 20 acres were only the beginning:  at one point, the Ringlings owned approximately 25% of the land in the Sarasota area.  During the Roaring Twenties, Ringling was one of the richest men in America, with a fortune estimated at more than $200 million and was not shy about flaunting his weath.  Besotted with Sarasota, Italy and with art, the Ringlings began construction in 1924 of a 36,000 square foot mansion overlooking Sarasota Bay, styled in the manner of a Venetian Palazzo.

The Ca’d’Zan, as they called their humble 15-bathroom terrazo-tiled abode, was just the beginning.

After its completion, Ringling built a 21 gallery art museum to house his growing and immense collection of Old Masters paintings, including Velasquez, van Dyke, Rubens and Gainsborough.  The museum opened in 1931 and was bequeathed to the City of Sarasota on John’s death.  The Ringling Art Library houses more than 88,000 volumes on art and art history.

You can visit the Ca’d’Zan, the art gallery, the 66 acre Bayfront Gardens and the Circus Museum, which are all open to the public.   Incidentally, this month, in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness, there is a self-guided tour on the History of Decolletage.  The picture below, taken from the Ringling Museum website this morning, was fittingly titled, “Boob Tour,”  proof that culture does not have to be dull.


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