The Ringling Museum



Obervation Lounge, Ringling Rail Car, Circus Museum

John and Mable Ringling had to travel extensively across the USA not just with the circus but also to search for new acts that would keep audiences coming back to the circus. With air travel in its infancy, they travelled by rail and they travelled in style. They had their own railroad car called ‘Wisconsin’ and it is exhibited in the Circus Museum.


Grand Court, Ca' d'Zan Mansion, Ringling Museum, Sarasota, FL, USA

John Ringling's Bedroom, Ca' d'Zan Mansion

John Ringling died in Manhattan, New York in 1936, yet Ca’ d’Zan looks as though he has just popped out for a walk. His clothes remained in the mansion after his death and they have been restored. They are still hanging in his closet or laid out on his bed as they would have been when he was alive. Click Tab 2 to see Johm Ringling’s Tap Room in, Ca 'd'Zan Mansion

Obervation Lounge, Ringling Rail Car, Circus Museum, Ringling Museum, Sarasota, FL, USA
Circus Wagons & Human Cannon, Circus Museum, Ringling Museum, Sarasota, FL, USA



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Grand Court, Ca' d'Zan Mansion

The interior of Ca’ de’Zan is every bit as opulent as its exterior. Paintings from the Ringling’s collection line the walls. At the centre of the mansion is the Grand Court which served as the living room. Overlooked by a balcony, this room is it by a crystal chandelier from the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The restoration of Ca’ d’Zan between 1996 and 2002 took care to return the rooms to their original look as shown in archive photographs. Furniture and paintings that had been put in store were renovated and put back in their original place.     

Circus Wagons & Human Cannon, Circus Museum

When John Ringling moved the winter quarters of the circus to Sarasota in 1927, many of the performers moved to the area. When the circus museum was set up in 1948, the performers proved to be an invaluable source of exhibits for the museum, including  costumes and props. This picture shows some of the brightly coloured wagons  used by the circus. In the centre is a Human  Cannon used to shoot performers across the big top. Click Tab 2 for some more brightly coloured circus wagons.

Ca'd'Zan Mansion

John and Mable Ringling travelled extensively through Europe and both love the architectural style of Venice, particularly Ca’ d’Oro (or Palazzo Santa Sofia), a palace on the Grand Canal. Ca’ de’Zan means ‘House of John’ in the Venetian dialect but it was Mable Ringling rather than John who oversaw the design and construction work. Architect Dwight James Baum was given the task of creating a mansion in the Venetian style looking out over Sarasota Bay rather than the Grand Canal. The building was covered in stucco and terracotta, the roof with imported Spanish tiles. In front of the mansion was a marble covered bayfront terrace where the Ringlings moored their yacht. Ca’de’Zan was completed in 1926 and many famous people of the era stayed there. Sadly, Mable did not get long to enjoy the masion that she helped to create. She died just 3 years after it was completed. When John Ringling died in 1936 he left his estate to the people of Florida, but disputes with his creditors meant that the house did not open to the public until 1946. The mansion had deteriorated and limited funds meant that it had deteriorated further by 1996. The mansion was closed for major restoration, replacing the roof and much of the exterior terracotta and marble. The restoration was finally completed in 2002 at a cost of $15 million. Ca’ d’Zan is now part of the Ringling Museum alongside the Circus Museum and Museum of Art. Click Tab 2 to see Ca’d’Zan from the landward side.

- A very personal insight into one of the best known characters of the US circus.
- No silly, unnecessary photography bans here, you can take pictures in the mansion and circus museum. Hooray!
- It can be very busy
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John Ringling was born in Iowa in 1866, the fifth son of German immigrants who had a total of seven sons and one daughter.  In 1884 John with four of his brothers worked with showman Yankee Robinson to launch a travelling show called ‘The Yankee Robinson and Ringling Bros. Double Show’. By 1888, the Ringlings had their own show and by the 1890s the show was travelling right across the USA by train. John, who had started as a clown, was responsible for scheduling the circus and booking acts. The main competitor to the Ringling circus was  Barnum & Bailey's Circus but James Bailey died in 1906 and the following year his widow sold Barnum & Bailey to the Ringling Brothers. The Ringling Brothers became very rich and Charles Ringling purchased land in Sarasota, Florida. In 1911 John followed suit by buying a house there called Palms Elysian. He lived in the house  while the circus was at its winter quarters in Connecticut. In 1919 the two circus shows were merged into the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. John engaged New York architect Dwight James Baum to design a mansion at Sarasota called Ca’ d’Zan which was completed in 1926. In 1927 the headquarters of the circus was moved to Sarasota. John’s wife Mable died in 1929 and in 1931 he put their art collection  on show at an Art Museum built in the mansion grounds. John Ringling lost  much of his wealth in the Great Depression and he died in 1936 leaving his estate to the people of Florida. The mansion was opened to the public from 1946 and in 1948 a circus museum was added.

Ca' d'Zan Mansion, Ringling Museum, Sarasota, FL, USA
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John Ringling's Bedroom, Ca' d'Zan Mansion, Ringling Museum, Sarasota, FL, USA
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Ringling Museum of Art

John Ringling decided to build a Art Museum to house his extensive collection in 1925. John H. Phillips designed the 21 gallery building  to look like a Renaissance palace. Standing a short distance from Ca’ d’Zan Mansion, it opened in 1930 after Mable’s death. When John died in 1936 he bequeathed the Museum of Art to the people of California along with the mansion. There is so much to see at the Ringling Museum that we ran out of time and were unable to visit the Museum of Art.

Ringling Museum of Art, Ringling Museum, Sarasota, FL, USA




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© Mike  Elsden 1981 - 2021

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