The G̶r̶e̶a̶t̶e̶s̶t̶ Longest Post on Earth: Touring the Sarasota Ringling Museum

May 24, 2019

The circus has always been one of those magical experiences for me, shrouded in wonder and a little bit of mystery, and I liked to imagine what it would be like to be a part of it all. I wanted to wear the glamorous costumes (I think that's where my love of fashion initially stemmed from), see the world (a new city or town every few days would quench my wandering spirit), and get up close & personal with animals that can literally bite your head off (it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise then that I went to school for biology, with the initial goal of moving into the animal husbandry field. The coolest job I ever had was taking care of the jaguars one summer at the Chattanooga zoo). In fact, it left such an impression on me, that I actually applied for an elephant trainer internship with Ringling Bros. my senior year of college (I made it to the 3rd round of interviews). It's kind of crazy to think how different my life would be had that panned out.

But then life happened (ie. the highway robbery that is student loan interest rates) and I let go of my childhood dreams in order to pay the bills. A part of it definitely still lingers, and I'm still amazed by all things circus. So naturally, a visit to the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, FL was a must-do for me.

The Ringling Museum is actually the vast estate of circus tycoon John Ringling and his wife Mable. It is comprised of the circus museum (which actually has 2 parts - the newer building with an impressive circus model and several exhibits, and the original circus museum, which houses train & circus cars, several animal cages, & various other memorabilia), the Ca' d'Zan (my future retirement home, the Ringling mansion), and the vast art museum with some seriously stunning grounds.

You first enter through the visitor center, which is also home to the historic Asolo Theater. After you purchase your tickets, be sure to stop by & take a peek in the Asolo. It's an actual 18th century Italian theater & it gave me chills just standing there, facing the stage, imagining what it must have been like in its heydey.

We started our morning with the circus museum, since it was what I had most wanted to see, and I thought Lilly would enjoy it as well. There is so much to see just in the 2 circus buildings! We only spent a couple of hours overall at the Ringling, but I could have easily spent the entire day here, had I not had Lilly with me who has the attention span of a goldfish (9 seconds, if you're wondering).

There are some amazing exhibits here. My favorites included the performers' wardrobes (of course), the beautifully carved parade wagons, and the vast Howard Bros. circus model (a 44,000 piece re-creation of the Ringling shows), while Lilly enjoyed the more interactive exhibits (a life size clown car and a miniature human cannon that shot darts into a net).

Right next door is the original circus museum which houses the Wisconsin, the actual railroad car on which John & Mable Ringling traveled across the country. This building is also home to animal cages, parade wagons, and ticket and utility wagons. It was like being inside a box of Barnum & Bailey animal crackers - in the best possible way.

Next, we opted to add on the first-floor tour of the Ca' d'Zan ("House of John") to our tickets. It took 2 years and a cool $1.5 million to build (NBD when you're as rich as the Ringlings). The 5 story building sits right on the bay and has some seriously stunning views. 

If I were Mable, I would have been milking that rich circus life for all its worth - brunch every morning on the terrace, masquerade balls on the yacht, and ridiculous parties in the mansion, complete with elephants, aerialists, and champagne fountains. So basically I would have been the circus version of Gatsby.

Since we were doing a lot of walking that day, I decided against wearing my sequin jumpsuit, feather boa, and bejeweled headdress (she said half-joking, but kind of serious), and opted instead for something a little less "Greatest Show on Earth!" and a little more "casual hipster Dumbo" (or a giant box of popcorn. I'll let you decide).

Shorts: Old Navy | Earrings: Amazon | Tee: Agaci (last season); similar here | Straw bag: Amazon

I knew I wanted to channel that circus spirit, so I paired these red & white striped Old Navy shorts that reminded me of the big top with a fun pair of mustard tassel earrings. I kept the bag simple and threw on this round straw crossbody that you've seen on approx. 8,629 other bloggers/instagrammers (for good reason - it's cute, versatile, and neutral).

I don't own a Dumbo tee (gasp! Say, what kind of Disney fan are you!?), so I thought this graphic tee worked just as well, with its message of positivity, and the general overall feeling that the circus evoked for me as a child. You just can't help but smile when you're sitting ringside, shoving fistfuls of fluffy cotton candy into your mouth, and marveling at a troupe of fabulously costumed ladies doing tricks on the backs of horses. If I had any coordination whatsoever, maybe I could have been a trickrider too, but my parents didn't love me enough to buy me the pony I wanted at 5 years old to jumpstart that career path, so I became a billing analyst at a CPA firm instead. If only...


By now you're probably wondering if we ever made it to the art museum and if this post is ever going to end. No, we did not make it to the art museum. Did you skip over the part about us having a toddler? She knocked over a bottle of wine at Costco yesterday. Can you even imagine her in a giant mansion full of priceless works of art? Hard pass. It also started pouring (because #Florida), and trekking in the rain across the 857,000 acre estate (give or take an acre) in a white tshirt didn't sound like a great plan either.

And yes, that brings this post to a close. While I wish we could have made it to the art museum, it just wasn't in the cards for us this time, but I know I'll be back eventually, once Lilly is old enough to understand the concept of  "no!" instead of just parroting it back to us...unless of course, we end up running away to the circus after all.

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