Saturday January 12
The hotel had a number of those things-to-do-in-Sarasota guides. flipping through the pages, two must see places jumped out – The Ringling and the Mote Aquarium.
Saturday morning, Linda’s sister and her husband picked us up at our hotel. Never having bothered to see how to get to The Ringling, my eyes pretty much popped out of my head when we arrived in a few minutes. It was less than ½ mile from the hotel.
Parking is free but getting in and out of the parking lot isn’t necessarily clear. We drove around the block on the way in and drove around the parking lot a few times to get out.
The Ringling entrance leads to the McKay Visitors Pavilion where visitors are greeted by friendly helpful docents. A common question asked visitors is “Have you been here before?” For first time visitors, the discussion immediately turns toward a description of all possible activities, some free, some with admission, some extra. Even after studying The Ringling website, new visitors will benefit from talking with the docents before approaching the ticket counter.
Our group decided to visit Ca’D’Zan, the John and Mable Ringling’s winter home and the Original Circus Museum. We figured the Museum of Art could wait for another visit.
At the ticket counter, we learned that the 10:00 AM John’s Tour was booked so we signed up for Mable’s Tour first followed by John’s Tour at 11:00. Most visitors do John’s Tour of the downstairs public areas of the house first. Then they do Mable’s Tour of the more private areas of the house including upstairs bedrooms second.
We were given bracelets to wear. One bracelet is for John’s Tour, the other for Mable’s Tour.
Visitors are not allowed to take pictures inside Ca’D’Zan. No explanation is given. Inside picture taking is just not allowed. Pity, the house interior is remarkable in so many ways that words fall short.
The walk from the visitor center to Ca’D’Zan is roughly ¼ mile. Mable’s Tour starts on the left side of the house. Mable’s Tour has 85 steps. The steps aren’t particularly difficult but people with mobility issues might want to avoid this tour.
One of the first things the Mable’s Tour guide told us is Ca’D’Zan means John’s House in the Venetian dialect. (This would be repeated on John’s Tour as well.) We saw the ballroom, court, breakfast room, dining room, kitchen, pantry, John’s bedroom, Mable’s bedroom and guest bedrooms.
Toward the end of the tour, after walking through a 3rd floor guest bedroom with amazing panoramic views (tower bedroom?), we were led outside and up additional stairs to a rooftop balcony area (Belvedere Tower?) where we were allowed to take pictures.
Standing on the rooftop balcony, one can see why John and Mable Ringling chose this site to build their home. At all times on the tour, a second staffer (not a tour guide) took up the rear of the tour and kept watch over us visitors. Just to be clear, the rear guard was a really nice guy. We talked to him before the tour started. He helped us find the right place to gather for the start of the tour.
Cameras and phones were put away before the tour guide led us back into the house. At the tour’s end, we walked around Ca’D’Zan to the bay side.
The Ringlings enjoyed entertaining guests inside and outside their house. The bay side patio area makes for a wonderful area for a huge party.
John’s Tour took us through the solarium, ballroom, entrance foyer, court (grand living room), breakfast room, pantry, dining room, tap room (bar), kitchen, John’s bedroom, John’s office, John’s bathroom, John’s exercise room, past some guest bedrooms, and game room.
Without pictures, it is next to impossible to show or explain how comfortable the house feels. Mable Ringling led much of the interior decoration and through her artist connections was able to add amazing artful touches to the house. Whimsical touches like having artists paint amazing pictures on the inside of bathroom medicine cabinets. John and Mable traveled annually to Venice Italy where they bought old and new furnishings for the house. The result is a house that says “Welcome guest, please come in and stay a while.”
My only rich famous person’s house comparison is Hearst Castle which I found over-the-top. While the Hearst home is beautiful and artistic, only a few rooms felt comfortable. It seemed like the Hearst home was built to show power and social prestige. Emotionally, the Hearst Castle stands in stark contrast to Ca’D’Zan, an inviting comfortable house built by people who valued their roles as host and hostess. Comfort and inclusion as opposed to power and wealth. Both houses have great views of the ocean.
Given a choice to live in either of the two houses, I would take Ca’D’Zan over Hearst Castle without reservation. Ca’D’Zan is that much more inviting.
After touring Ca’D’Zan, we headed back toward the Visitors Pavilion to look for the Original Circus Museum’s entrance. It was lunchtime so we stopped off at a cafe across the walkway from the Original Circus Museum. The food was not prepared well and the service was substandard. Pity because all of the other services in The Ringling were excellent.
Toward one end of a nondescript windowless white building we found the entrance door. Inside the door, a gift shop was on the left, a display on the right and the museum straight ahead.
Once inside, the Ringling private circus rail car, called The Wisconsin, caught my attention.
Walking up the ramp to the platform level with the rail car’s floor, visitors will see open windows across the car’s side.
Each open window has a descriptive display.
Serving as a drawing room, the observation lounge provided an area where the Ringlings could enjoy the company of their friends. The built in sofa converted into a bed. The call buttons near the windows allowed the Ringlings to alert the crew of any needs. Mahogany panels with marquetry, decorative wood inlay, cover the walls. Built with gas and electric lamps, the car was retrofitted with all electrical lighting. The clerestory windows in the roof and the side windows opened. The windows, along with the fans, circulated the air throughout the car.
This particular human canon was capable of rapid reload and could shoot two people 140 feet in the air separately within a few seconds of each other.
No circus would be complete without music.
No signage was present to say which animals were contained within the above cage. One can only imagine the cage was built to contain man-eating lions.
At one point in time, elephants were housed within the museum’s walls. A faint odor still remains.
On the way out, the gift shop has a number of items appropriate for the circus. I’ve heard the saying imprinted on the above pillows as “Not my circus, not my clowns.”
There is so much more to see at The Ringling than just Ca’D’Zan and the Old Circus Museum. Including lunch, our party spent four hours at the site.
During their lives, John and Mable Ringling built an extensive art collection. That legacy exists today in the Ringling Museum of Art. To see and savor the art on public display in the museum, expect to spend at least four hours.
Some day, we will be back.
Hope to see you on the road ahead!