Over the past 5 years, I’ve developed some favorite stop over places on my annual snowbird journey to Florida. One of these places is the small campground at Turtle Beach on Siesta Key. Siesta Key is a narrow barrier island near Sarasota, FL. At the southern end of the island is a small 40 site municipal campground called Turtle Beach Campground.
I like this spot because it’s a small quiet place that’s right on the water. It’s the perfect place to sit on the beach and decompress from the long days on the highway. Here’s a blog post I wrote about last years stay at Turtle Beach – Sunsets at Siesta.
This year we spent 5 days at Turtle Beach relaxing and getting acclimated to the FL snowbird lifestyle.
This past September, Hurricane Irma caused some damage at the campground requiring it to close for about 2 months. During the closure several improvements were made. All new electrical service and new electrical pedestals were installed at each site. New drainage was put in, trees were taken down, new palms were planted, and each site was graded with new crushed shell material. The main road was paved and a new wi-fi system was installed. Basically, it looks and feels like a new campground.
We spent most afternoons sitting on the beach watching the sunsets.
On one afternoon, I rode the new SCAT trolley up to Siesta Beach. This year, Sarasota County added a new trolley route that goes from the lower part of Siesta Key at Turtle Beach and travels 4 miles up to Siesta Beach. Siesta Beach is a popular place for snowbirds and Sarasota residents. It’s a wide white sand beach and is one of Florida’s highest rated beaches.
I went to walk the beach. While I was there, I decided to make a video to capture what the beach is like.
The highlight of this years visit to Turtle Beach was our visit to the The Ringling Museum in nearby Sarasota. In the realm of circus history, the Ringling name is one that stands out with other notables like P.T. Barnum, Bailey, and Buffalo Bill Cody. In the early 1900’s, the Ringling Brothers created The Greatest Show on Earth – a traveling circus that was bigger and better than all others circus shows
One of the Ringling brothers, John Ringling, built an extravagant winter home on 20 waterfront acres in Sarasota. The grounds of this estate, now called The Ringling, include his home, an art museum, and circus museum. The property is owned and managed Florida State University and is open to the public. We spent an afternoon visiting The Ringling and thoroughly enjoyed our time there.
Some Ringling History
The Ringling brothers (their parents were Ruengling who came from Germany) grew up in Wisconsin in the post civil war era. The family had seven sons and one daughter. In the early 1880’s, the family went to see a local traveling circus. That family outing made a lasting impression on the young boys, Shortly afterwards, the boys staring teaching themselves how to play music instruments, did local performances, and started a small musical review show. In 1882, five of the brothers created a small traveling circus.
They initially started out as performers. But as their show grew, each took on a different role in running the circus. One brother managed the horses and animals, another became the accountant and business manager, one managed the acts and performers, and the youngest brother John managed the marketing and circus schedule.
The Ringling Brothers circus became wildly popular and grew through acquisition. They acquired the Barnum and Bailey circus in 1907 and ran the circuses as separate entities until 1918 when they merged the shows into the Greatest Show on Earth. At one point, the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus had 1,300 employees and required over 100 rail cars to move the show.
John Ringling would outlive his older brothers and become the sole owner and manager of the circus. He was very successful with the circus and expanded his business interests to include real estate, rail roads, oil wells, and banks. He also became an avid art collector.
In 1905 he married Mable Burton, who he met in Chicago. Together they began building their dream home in Sarasota, FL. Mable was the driving force in creating the home, which they called Ca d’Zan meaning “house of John” in Venetian. The house sits on Sarasota Bay, has 30 rooms, and 36,000 sq ft of living space. They also built a museum to house John’s extensive art collection.
Mable died in 1929. The Great Depression hit John’s business interests very hard. At one point in the 1920’s he was worth over $200M. But when he died in 1935, he had only $311 in his bank account. Prior to his death, as creditors where closing in, he had foresight and donated his home and art collection to the state of Florida. In was that act that let us and all the public learn about his life and see what he created.
Visiting The Ringling
The Ringling includes the home, Ca d’Zan, two circus museums, the Ringing Art Museum, the Asolo Theater, and Mabel’s Rose Garden. The grounds and setting are beautiful. The circus museums are very interesting. There are several artifacts like wagons, props, and costumes. The Ringling’s private rail road car that they used to travel with the circus has been completely restored and is on display. As a history buff, I found the historic plaques about the circus operations and circus stories fascinating to read.
It’s incredible to walk through and see the scale model of an entire circus setup with its rail yard and several tents. A huge multi acre tent city would be set up in 4 hours for an afternoon show. The big top tent could seat 13,000 people. Huge tents for the performers, animals, and dining would also be set up. Photography and video of the grounds and in the museums is limited to personal use only (no commercial or public publishing) so I haven’t included any photos of the grounds.
One fee ($25 for adults, $23 for seniors over 65)) covers entrance to the grounds, the Art Museum, and circus museums. A separate fee is charged for tours of Ca d’Zan. We took the self guided tour of the home ($10) which covers just the ground floor. The house was built in the style of a Venetian mansion. It is as glamorous and ostentatious as other famous homes like the Breakers in Newport and the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. There’s no photography allowed in the house.
The story of The Ringling Brothers and John Ringling is fascinating and very educational. John and Mable left and incredible legacy for people to learn from and enjoy. We spent 4 1/2 hours touring everything. We could easily have spent 1-2 more hours going more slowly through the art museum. If you happen to be near Sarasota and are looking for something to do, I highly recommend a visit to The Ringling.
PS: The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus was sold by the Ringling family in 1967. The last show under a big top tent was held in 1957. The circus closed in May 2017 after 146 years in operation.
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