Just about everyone has gone to the circus, and when you talk circus the first name that comes to mind is John Nicholas Ringling. He was the most well known of the seven Ringling brothers. Born to German immigrants, Marie Salome’ Juliar and August Ringling in May 31 1866, he was fifth son in a family of seven sons, a one daughter. His father was a farmer and harness maker. The Ringling Circus started in 1870 as the “the Ringling Brothers United Monster Shows, Great Double Circus, Royal European Menagerie, Museum, Caravan, and Congress of Trained Animals”. They understood even in the early days the importance of well done introduction to catch the imagination! They also understood value! They only charged a penny for admission. By 1882 it was called the “The Ringling Brothers Classic and Comic Concert Company”, and traveled by railroad cars, admission rose to 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children.
The railroad cars began a way to move the circus around the country from on city to another. They would unload and have everything they needed to live while on the road. They had a large tent for “resting” between performances and for eating food. It took a large, well organized team to set up the tents, and work behind the scenes. Huge generators for power and to provide cooking for all those thousands of people, and animals.CA
Many people had never seen some of the animals. So you often paid a fee to walk through and see the animals before the performance while they were in their cages. It was an added attraction!
John Ringling married Mable Burton in 1905. In 1907 the Ringling Brothers bought the Barnum & Bailey Circus for $400,000 and ran them as two separate entities for a while, but with the sudden death of two older brothers (Otto in 1911 and Al in 1916) they realized the need to combine them. On March 29, 1919 in Madison Square Garden in New York City, The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey World’s Greatest on Earth became one! His brother Alfred passed away in 1919, and Charles who managed the shows died in 1926, on top of all this Mable died in 1929 and the Great Depression brought more problems. He was voted out of control by the board of directors in 1932. John Ringling died not a wealthy man, but a poor one, with less than $400 in his bank account. He did have this museum, his house, Cad’Zan (or House of John) in Sarasota Florida and his art collection, which he had willed to the State of Florida. The museum and house now restored , includes a theater for the arts and is one of the jewels of the State of Florida.
You can see the styles of time and many of the items owned by John and Mable Ringling. Though he was married briefly after her death it did not last and ended in divorce. The House was built in the Venetian Gothic style, designed by New York architect Dwight James Baum, built by Owen Burns, was completed in 1926. At one time he was one of the richest men in the world and traveled all over Europe. Unfortunately the word changed rapidly and the winds of fortune changed also, though you can see the stories in the art he collected and the Circus he loved. The Circus still attracts people today, and is still evolving in different forms such as cirque du soleil and others.