"" Writer's Wanderings: The Ringling - The Circus Museum

Friday, March 31, 2017

The Ringling - The Circus Museum

After wandering around the grounds and gardens of The Ringling, we headed for one of the two buildings that house the Circus Museum. It was ten o'clock and the doors were finally open.

The first building held lots of circus wagons and calliopes. There were all sorts of circus posters from the 1800s on up.

It was a little difficult to tell sometimes which items were original and which were reproductions. We tried reading a lot of the stories behind the exhibits but some were set so low that it was hard to read without getting down really low. At our age, that's not always an easy thing to do.

The kitchen display and narrated story by someone who had been with the circus was very interesting but what really surprised me because I had never thought of it was that they traveled with their own blacksmith shop to do repairs.

One of the most impressive displays was a large Pullman car that was the mobile home of the Ringlings when they traveled with the circus. There was a large dining area, parlor, and a his and hers sleeping rooms connected by a bathroom that had hot and cold running water piped in from water tanks below the car. Of course a room for the servants who cooked and served on the road from the kitchen that was also in the car.

A video we watched about the beginnings of the Ringling Circus was very informative and interesting. I had no idea that there were originally five brothers who started their circus and eventually bought out the Barnum and Bailey Circus.

Fascinating also was the cannon that was used to shoot a human out and into a net. As we read the description we learned that the propulsion was strictly from a spring mechanism inside. The gun powder that was ignited had nothing to do with the propulsion and was just for show. The spring mechanism however was a closely guarded family secret.

The second building housed more memorabilia including some of the costumes worn by the more famous of the performers and clowns. Another area had some hands on activities that could give you a chance to walk a "tightrope" although it was attached to the floor. Another small video screen displayed a clown who was explaining and demonstrating one of the types of clown makeups. I was amazed at how quickly and smoothly he painted his face.

The main attraction in the second building however was the huge miniature circus that took up most of the first floor. The 3800 square foot, 1/16 th scale model features all the components of a huge three ring circus operation. You enter the room and walk along the area where the train cars unload the animals, equipment and people and proceed to see where all the various parts of the circus are set up to operate. The kitchen, the service tents, the costume tent where the performers dressed, the areas that held the animals (400 horses were used to help set up everything), the blacksmith tent--it just went on and on and surrounded the large circus tent that housed the three rings where performers were moving around.

There was a sideshow and a menagerie. Each of the figures whether human or animal were very detailed. I thought there was something wrong with my eyes as lights began to dim but when miniature lights came on in the display, I realized that it was cycling through a day into night.

All of this was the project of one man, Howard Tibbals whose love of the circus prompted his huge undertaking. The circus is called Howard Bros. Circus and I'm guessing it's named after him. A labor of love.

We walked out of the building shaking our heads in amazement not only at the work of art but also at the thought that all of what we saw would, in real life, have been assembled and disassembled in one day as the circus usually only spent one day in a town--that is until they went into arenas where I recall they stayed for a week.

Alas, it is questionable whether there will ever be circuses in the traditional sense any more. As I understand, the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailley is going out of business after 146 years. The days of the greatest show on earth are alas a memory. The Feld Entertainment company who bought the circus in 1967 cited slowing ticket sales and increased costs. Ticket sales apparently dropped drastically with the removal of the elephants from the show due to pressure from animal rights groups.

As we left the last building, we could hear the calliope music and smell popcorn. Ah, the memories live on.

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