As much as I adored being at the beach and hanging out with Eric and the kids, I would be lying if I didn't say that my day at the Ringling Museum all by myself wasn't a highlight of the trip for me. Last year, it was a stolen afternoon at the Hemingway House in Key West that set my heart a'thumpin'. This year, it was this magnificent property, filled with romance, art and...wait for it...circus lore.
I know...that sounds a bit creepy, but it was magical. Really.
One of the first things I saw was this incredible and immense to-scale model of a circus in the heyday of its popularity.
The detail of the model was mind-boggling. It took one man ten years to create this masterpiece.
It was stunning, but also taught a lot about the hierarchy and organizational structure of a big circus, which basically amounted to a gigantic mobile city.
Looking at this model, it isn't hard to understand how running away with the circus attracted a lot of people with an urge to escape a more mundane and/or confining life or community.
I must have spent about half an hour walking around, reading the display and looking at the little people and animals. Each scene told a story. I was captivated.
In fact, the entire story of the Ringling brothers and the circuses they ran is remarkable. It represents a different time, when the United States was a playground for those with great ideas and the energy and courage to see them through.
Below, you can see the railcar John Ringling and his wife rode in as they visited their circuses all over the country. They operated this railcar like their mobile home. However, since they were insanely wealthy and privileged, their railway car was like a moving mansion. I can only imagine the adventure of traveling in this way, clickey clacking your way across the continent...the world passing by your window. So cool.
Of course, riding the rails is a little tougher when the house you are leaving behind looks like this:
Spectacular. This home the Ringlings constructed on the intercoastal waterway in Sarasota was meant to be a showcase for their wealthy friends. The Ringlings wanted Sarasota to become a cultural centre and they figured the best way to promote it was to invite friends to stay and then spread the land's riches out before them.
All I can say is, well played Ringlings, well played. If were a gagillionaire and I was standing on this patio, I'd plunk down some cash to enjoy the view from my own Venetian palace.
I mean, really.
The house is pure magic. Meant to evoke the beauty of the Doge's palace in Venice, it does that and more (for me).
It is a charming mix of Old World and New. Avid collectors of art, the Ringlings were their own people, lead to what they found beautiful instead of simply following the hoardes. The result is an eclectic and charming collection.
You wouldn't find this painting on the ceiling in Venice:
I would enjoy spending my days in this room:
Especially with a view like this:
Sadly (don't all these sort of stories end badly?), the wealth and luxury wasn't permanent. If you are interested, you should read up on the Ringlings, but suffice to say that the Crash and Depression in the 20's was no better for them than it was for most Americans. Mabel Ringling died and John Ringling had a rough few years before dying in New York virtually penniless.
But the fun they had before then might have made it worthwhile...I don't know, you'd have to ask them, but it looked pretty spectacular to me.
*An interesting footnote: while money was certainly no object for the Ringlings, they did make small economies along the way. This one made me chuckle. Look at the floor in the picture below. You can see that one side is black and white marble, while the servants' side is actually asbestos tile. Why bother continuing with marble all the way back there for servants. Asbestos is good enough for them...
It was a stunning afternoon in the Ca' d'Zan.