We found it is not just the Circus Museum, but the entire John Ringling Estate that is covered by the entrance fee. We got there as soon as it opened at 10 AM and went first to the Circus Learning Center, where there are hands on (or feet on) displays for wire walking and standing on horseback. I did both of those things successfully--maybe I missed my calling?
Inside the Learning Center building are two miniature Circus displays, one with well over 50,000 pieces! The Howard Bros. Circus Model was built to scale by Howard Tibbals and is the world's largest miniature circus.He has been building it for over 50 years and still works in a workshop there one day a week (not today). They did not allow flash photography inside the buildings, so I bought a booklet about the model. It is truly incredible in its detail.
I bought postcards for the grandchildren, and photographed the postcards to give you an idea of the detail of the display--tens of thousands of people and animals, tents made to every detail in scale, even a lineman on one of the many utility poles strung with copper wire. There are about 5,000 folding chairs in the bigtop, and they actually fold.
We then went to the original Circus Museum where we toured the railroad car that John and Mable Ringling used when they traveled with the circus. The light was better in that building so I was able to take photos sans flash.
There were many original circus cars there, a display of the kitchens they used to feed 1,300 people three meals a day, and this truck, the Bruno Zacchini human cannonball truck. After touring the museum we watched a movie about the life of John Ringling. He and his brothers were entranced when a circus came to their small town in Wisconsin when they were children, and they set out to have a circus of their own. They succeeded beyond their dreams! In the midst of their success John and Mable were married and began learning about and collecting art.
They built a winter home in Sarasota, shown above. We toured the ground floor of this home, named Ca d'Zan, which means house of John. It is truly spectacular! The paintings on the walls of the breakfast room, below are original Old Masters that John and Mable collected on their many trips to Europe.
We walked through Mable's extensive rose garden (not in bloom right now) to get to the John and Mable Ringling Art Museum, which was completed in the early 1930s and houses more than 10,000 original works of art, divided into 21 galleries that cover many different periods and styles. I spent much of my time in the 16th and 17th century galleries, and I was awed by the extent of this collection. John Ringling, who died in 1936, willed it to the state of Florida and it is now operated by Florida State University.
By the time we got in the car it was almost closing time at the Ringling Estate. What a day!