My granddaddy loved to take his grandchildren to the circus. One of my favorite memories is of him peacefully snoozing at the end of the three-ring shows and then jumping out of his seat from the loud bang when a performer was launched from a cannon as the grand finale!
One of the most interesting attributes of moving to Sarasota, Florida in the mid-1980s, was the strong circus family influence. Some of these performers were in the movie “The Greatest Show on Earth,” which also showed scenes of the circus parade on Main Street. In my time in Sarasota, the final dress rehearsals for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (before going on its annual national tour) were held under a big top tent south of Sarasota. There is also the rich and romantic history of John Ringling on how he influenced the land use pattern of our barrier islands and building a dream waterfront home for his beloved wife, Mabel. I also have fond memories of seeing circus performers practice on trampolines in their backyards on my way to the grocery store.
It was recently announced that the final Ringling Circus show will occur this May, and approximately 400 very talented employees, many with family roots back to Sarasota, will be laid off. In succumbing to public opinion, the show tried to go on without elephants but could not survive the subsequent drop in ticket sales. It seems like other live shows with super-hero themes such as Marvel and Frozen on Ice are the entertainment vogue for kids these days.
Yes, there is a regret in losing a part of an iconic tradition. We wish the circus families still living within the Sarasota area the best in finding economic stability again.
The circus tradition, however, is still robust within our hometown Sarasota. We encourage visitors of our fine community as well as its residents, to continue to support these performers by attending Sarasota’s wonderful boutique circus shows including Circus Sarasota. Additionally, the Circus Museum on the grounds of the Ringling homestead is a must-see for anyone who loves the circus, particularly the panorama of over 40,000 figures each handcrafted by Howard Tibbals, with sounds of a bustling circus and staged at a height also enjoyed by children. There is even a man being shot out of a cannon!