Sunday, December 16, 2012


Sarasota is a Circus Town. In 1927, John Ringling made Sarasota the winter headquarters for his Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. John Ringling was an exemplary successful businessman starting in 19th century and extending into the first three decades of the 20th. 

He and his brothers were the sons of poor immigrants who began their own traveling circus in the early 1870’s in Baraboo, in southern Wisconsin, going 10 to 15 miles a day, from town to town in the spring, summer, and early fall months.  Their circus had the wonderful name of "The Ringling Brothers United Monster Shows, Great Double Circus, Royal European Menagerie, Museum, Caravan, and Congress of Trained Animals" soon to be contracted to "The Ringling Brothers Classic and Comic Concert Company"—still a mouthful. 

Taking advantage of the newly developed mode of travel and transport, the railroad, they purchased rail cars and placed their circus paraphernalia on flatbeds, baggage cars etc.  Soon they had their own trains and moved thousands of people from city to city, often for one night stands. Like a military operation, they loaded and unloaded, set up and took down the tents, the trapeze, the side shows, and returned tigers, elephants, lions to their cages.  As Ringling purchased other circuses, he began to consolidate them into his own show which became known as “The Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus— The Greatest Show on Earth.”  He offered the high point of American entertainment in those years – when there was no radio, no TV, no DVD, no CD, no nothing!  So the circus was a big force in America’s social history.  And John Ringling made his fortune with it, starting with a penny entry fee in the 1870’s and then going up from there.  He employed thousands, gave pleasure to millions, and made millions for himself.    

Alfred, Albert, John, Otto, Charles, & Guess Who?

The Bandwagon

Circus Parade - letting everyone know the circus was in town

Do you remember the Flying Wallendas?
After moving to Sarasota with his wife, Mable, he built a grand home and created a museum for his fine collection of international art.  However, Ringling was undone by the great Depression and died bankrupt with a mere $311 in the bank.  

Today, his legacy continues in Sarasota’s wonderful Ringling Art Museum, his art-deco Italianate home as a fully restored public historic site, and in his vision of a grand community in Sarasota extending to the long barrier islands off shore. 

And of course, even though his circus went out of business in 1964, a dated relic from America’s brassy past, we have modern versions—Cirque de Soleil and The Big Apple Circus—but none to match John Ringling’s grandness of vision in the scope of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, the Greatest Show on Earth.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

PRESERVES - Restoring Natural Habitats Along the Gulf of Mexico


Waterway, boardwalk, and bridges protect natural habitat


Durante Park, a 32 acre site along Sarasota Bay was donated by a local physician in memory of his wife. To restore the natural habitat, structures in the area were removed, invasive species cleaned out, and additional native plant species were planted to supplement those already present.  This wetland treasure provides many looped walking trails among the mangroves and small coastal hammocks.  From the observation boardwalks extending into the bay we saw the forest succession of red, black, and white mangroves and then many birds, including herons, ospreys, pelicans and even an eagle.  Fish swam in the shallow tidal streams which laced their way through the mangroves.

The approximate 400 acre Robinson Preserve in Bradenton just north of Longboat Key and Sarasota had miles of trails covering similar habitat as Durante Park.  While Tampa Bay has lost about 90% of its shoreline to development, the remaining 10% of the shoreline provides the wetlands necessary for the local fishes, birds and water plant life.  For example, the mangroves are critical for the filtration of the bay waters while at the same time providing protected breeding grounds for birds and fish. 

And so we have found that the west coast of Florida is more than long beautiful beaches extending north and south as far as the eye can see.  It is also more than rows of condominiums for Snow-Birds who come during the winter months.  It is an ecological resource for all to enjoy and treasure.