Mondays are free admission days at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, the official art museum of Florida. While that was enough of an inducement, I was equally delighted wandering the grounds of the sprawling 66-acre estate as I was the museum’s 21 galleries.
The compound, which currently consists of the art museum and library, Ca’ d’Zan (the Ringling mansion), two Circus museums, and a performing arts theater, as well as several distinct gardens and ponds, is perfectly situated along Sarasota Bay.
The handsome estate is an enduring legacy for the enterprenurial showman. Born in Iowa to German immigrants, John Ringling and five of his siblings began their first circus in 1870, when John was merely four years old. I won’t go into all the details but suffice it to say, it’s an impressive story: from the early days of charging one penny for admission to John becoming one of the richest men in the world by 1920.
As with many rags to riches stories, this one also saw a major reversal in fortune. John lost most of his money during the Great Depression, when he died in 1936 he had only $311 in the bank. More recently, in 2017, after 146 years, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus closed its tent flaps forever.
The residents of Florida are exceedingly fortunate that John Ringling bequeathed his sprawling estate and art collection to the state. Though the property floundered for the first 60 plus years, it has thrived since 2000 when it was transferred to Florida State University.
I’m looking forward to a return visit when the weather cools off!