Blue Star Museums Blog (Archive)

Blue Star Voices: The Ringling Museum

We have been stationed in Tampa, Florida, for three years and finally made the trek to a museum we have been wanting to visit for just about as long. I don't know if it was taking our daughter to the circus for the first time earlier this year or the recent Nik Wallenda Grand Canyon high-wire walk, but when I discovered that The Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida, which houses the Circus Museum, was a Blue Star Museum, I knew we had to make it down this summer.

The Ringling Museum is on the 20-acre former estate of John Ringling, one of the five original circus kings of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. On its grounds are the Visitor's Pavilion, Historic Asolo Theater, Circus Museum, Bayfront Gardens, Ca d'Zan (the Ringling Mansion), Education Center, Museum of Art, and Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts. There are events going on year-round in all the performing and visual arts, including circus performances. Add gift shops and two places to eat right on the campus, and a family could spend the entire day at The Ringling Museum and everyone would leave happy seeing something that they were interested in whether it be architecture, art, memorabilia, a train car, or gardens.

We started our visit at the Circus Museum. We walked along the Howard Bros. Circus Model featuring a huge miniature display with an incredible amount of detail. Next we explored the interactive features of the circus museum and my two-year-old absolutely loved it. Truth be told, my husband and I had just as much fun walking on the high wire and pretending to bareback horse ride in the displays as she did. I couldn't get over the detail in the costumes and memorabilia on display throughout the museum. There was a plenty to look at from animal carrier wagons to sideshow posters to videos of circus acts. My daughter loved climbing in and out of the clown car and shooting foam pieces out of a model of a cannon truck. As I said, something for everyone!

After the excitement of a behind-the-scenes look at circus history, we explored only a portion of the sprawling estate. We toured the Rose Garden on our way to Ca d'Zan. It originally served as the Ringling winter home but is now a walk-through museum that truly gives a taste of the opulence of the wealthy in the 1920s. We, of course, had to take a moment to sit and enjoy the gorgeous view of the bay from the terrace.

We also toured the impressive Museum of Art which originally housed the Ringlings' private collection. There are works representing almost every period and form throughout the gallery. It was rounding the corner on naptime for our little one, but we were able to view a good portion of the works and we did some color and shape recognition in the Cubism gallery.

We were there for a couple of hours and did not see every square inch of the estate so a couple or family could definitely pick and choose what they wanted to look at and make several visits. In addition, we did not attend any special activities since there were none the day we went and the regular circus performance was too late in the day for our family. These activities add to the variety of experiences you could have. The Ringling Museum website does a good job of providing information and tips for your visit so take the time to review it and decide what will work best for you.

Michelle VanHuss is a U.S. Air Force spouse and stay-at-home mother of a two-year-old with a second on the way. She currently volunteers with MacDill Enlisted Spouses Club and the Tampa Area YMCA and blogs at Domesticating Michelle and Off the Base.

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