When Big Top Brothers, John and Charles Ringling, relocated the winter headquarters of The Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus to Sarasota in 1927, eventually founding the Ringling Bros Barnum and Bailey Clown College, Sarasota rightly earned the nickname, “Circus Capital of the World.” The circus legacy established by the Ringling Brothers is alive and well today, as Sarasota pays homage to the twentieth-century entertainment tycoon upon which the city was raised.
Families can get a feel for a walk along the tight rope or take turns trying to cram themselves into the itty-bitty clown car featured in the interactive section at in the Ringling Circus Museum and Tibbals Learning Center. The Ringling Circus Museum includes a comprehensive collection of circus history, including dazzling costumes, props, parade and baggage wagons, show posters and the elaborate 1905 Wisconsin rail car John and Mable Ringling rode in during the golden age of the traveling circus. The museum also contains the world’s largest miniature circus model, an intricate, sprawling model that demonstrates the scale and complexity of the entire circus, during the 1920s and 30s.
Although the traveling circus once rolled through towns on its way across the country, not to return for a year’s time, Sarasota residents and visitors can enjoy the circus year-round at Circus Sarasota, a nonprofit organization committed to preserving Sarasota’s hometown circus culture. Circus Sarasota is home of the Sailor Youth Circus and a number of circus education and outreach programs including Laughter Unlimited and Big Top education. In addition to Sailor Circus performances, Circus Sarasota hosts its own annual professional performances in the European-style, one-ring, five-star big top, and dedicates 80% of its ticket revenue to supporting local outreach programs.