The Greatest (Little) Show on Earth…

November 4, 2009

As we entered Florida on Wednesday eve, our primary goal was to get to Marco Island (off the SW Florida coast) on Saturday, early enough to check in to the timeshare condo we’d reserved for the week ahead. So we spent Wednesday night in non-descript Madison, FL, tootled over I-10 to where I-75 stabs southward down into the state, and from there, worked our way out to the western coast, figuring we could make Sarasota by nightfall. So we hit our first sandy beach at Honeymoon Island State Park:

P1060277Now, I have to say here for the record, that at this point in our impression-forming Florida visit, we were NOT impressed with the layout. To get to this beach, which was of course quite beautiful, we had to drive south on Rte. 19, which seemed like not much more than a 30 mile strip mall, with all kinds of towns back to back, no distinction between towns, every major big-box store and fast-food store you can think of. But once we left the beach, we moved to lesser-traveled Rte 19 Alt, and our enjoyment meters started to rise back to normal. By the time we’d traversed south through St. Petersburg and crossed the I-275/Rte 19 bridge, things were looking markedly better. As you can see, this is a TALL bridge; there must be some big-masted ships sailing under that arch!

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I-275 Bridge, Connecting St. Petersburg & Bradenton, FL

Remember my comment about serendipity from the previous blog post? Spell it “Sarasota” in this case, where we chose to spend the night, not far from Osprey Lake, where this photo was taken:

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A Lovely Evening on Osprey Lake, Sarasota, FL

Here’s where the serendipity comes in. We figured on at most a 3-hour drive to get down to Marco Island, just east of Naples; what should we do in the morning? Asking around, most people said “Don’t miss the Circus Museum.” OK, let’s go see that, sounds fun. As it turned out, we were in for a treat beyond our imaginations! The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is the place. Associated with Florida State University, it is the top museum and cultural attraction in Florida, no less. You enter it at the Cà d’ Zan Gatehouse:

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The Cà d' Zan Gatehouse, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art

What does “Cà d’ Zan” mean? It’s a Venetian-dielect phrase meaning “House of John.” (hmmm…) But the story of the Ringling Brothers is a fantastic tale, which we learned of through a docent lecture during our visit. When a circus came to the Ringling brothers’s hometown of Baraboo, Wisconsin, five of the brothers (of a brood of 7 boys and 1 girl) were so enamored with what they saw, that they decided to do a circus of their own. So each of the five boys worked on a talent for a year, and when they were ready, the Ringling Bros circus was born in 1884, and went on to grow and dominate the world of the circus for many years. Ringling Bros, as it grew and flourished, bought up most other circuses of the era, including the famous Barnum and Bailey acquisition in 1919. All of the Ringling brothers got rich from gate admissions, but John in particular seemed able to parlay his earnings into the vast trappings of much wealth, as exemplified here.

My sobriquet “Greatest (Little) Show on Earth” goes to what’s on display in the Circus Museum’s Tibbals Learning Center:

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Tibbals Learning Center at the Ringling Circus Museum

Inside this building is “The Howard Bros. Circus Model,” a replica of “The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus” from 1919-1938. Complete with eight main tents, 152 wagons, 1,300 circus performers and workers, more than 800 animals and a 59-car train, the model is built in 3/4-inch to a foot scale, and occupies 3,800 square feet. “The world’s largest miniature circus” was created over a period of more than 50 years by master model builder and philanthropist Howard Tibbals. Here, come on into the Big Top:

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Entrance to the Big Top, Howard Bros. Circus

You have only to look at any of the multitude of scenes created by Tibbals to appreciate how much work went into his 50 years of building:

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One of many exquisitely-detailed scenes created by Howard Tibbals

You won’t want to miss today’s circus gallery; please click on the emboldened, highlighted link to see it. There are more photos than usual, but fewer captions. As you’ll see in the gallery, we also were greatly helped in our circus knowledge by a great docent witch named Bobbi (witch was because of Halloween that day). We capped our Ringling tour with a walkthrough of John and Mable Ringling’s mansion, Cà d’ Zan:

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View from the Terrace of Cà d' Zan

P1200427And finally, although October isn’t the best season for roses, Mable Ringling’s rose garden still has some striking colors to offer.

We’ve moved on to Marco Island now, and here a few days already, are enjoying the “kicking back” thing a lot, not quite so active with the cameras. But tomorrow we’ll be going on a bona fide Everglades excursion, replete with kayaking, boat ride, and beach buggy, to see some of these fabled Southern Florida flora and fauna. We may publish some of our findings in this venue? Who knows what the future may bring…

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6 Responses to “The Greatest (Little) Show on Earth…”

  1. Dee Gustavson said

    J & J, I just caught up with your blog again (missed a month or so), and see that you’re in Florida now. Lovely photos and intriguing descriptions!
    Dave and I explored the Everglades and Key West last December. Fascinating! I could have stayed longer. Watch out for the alligators!
    Missed you at our quarterly singalong at Diana & Mikes, John!
    Dee G.

  2. Dee Gustavson said

    J & J, I just caught up with your blog again (missed a month or so), and see that you’re in Florida now. Lovely photos and intriguing descriptions!
    Dave and I explored the Everglades and Key West last December. Fascinating! I could have stayed longer. Watch out for the alligators!
    Missed you at our quarterly singalong at Diana & Mikes, John!
    Dee G.

  3. Cheryl & Jeff said

    Wow, I’m glad that you have hesitated a bit to go to the Ringling Museum.
    You are now in Jeff Hylton territory and, while he was raised 50 mi from
    Tampa in Lakeland, we’ve spent lots of time around Tampa. We highlly recommend the Salvatore Dali Museum in St. Petersburg on your way back
    north. It is truly spectacular with most of Dali’s masterworks – miles high
    and wide – and incredible!!!!! You will not regret going back through St.
    Pete and enjoying this incredible museum. Everything sounds so great and
    may you continue loving it all. Best, Cheryl and Jeff

  4. Paulette Henning said

    I don;t know why but I had not received anything from you guys and since I was in France for 2 weeks, when i returned I checked with Penny and in turn got back on track from Ginny. Glad to see you are doing well and on your way back our way, I assume. Stay well. Looking forward to seeing you soon.
    Amie Francaise

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