Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ringling Circus Museum

The figure on a bicycle above is riding back and forth on a high wire. What a delightful introduction to John Ringling's circus museum! This museum, established in 1948, was the first museum of its kind to document the rich history of the circus. During the final years of their circus the Ringling family had all their shows performed only in Florida. With so many people living in the immediate area, the collection for the museum grew quickly. The museum now has an interesting collection of circus memorabilia as rare handbills, posters, wardrobe and performing props, as well as all types of circus equipment, including beautifully carved parade wagons.
Located in the Circus Museum's Tibbals Learning Center is a miniature circus model which is replica of  The Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus from 1919-1938. It is complete with eight main tents, 152 wagons, 1,300 circus performers and workers, more than 800 animals and a 59-car train. Master model builder Howard Tibbals created this exhibition over 50 years, and still is working on it. While viewing the circus model the museum visitor can also enjoy all the sounds of the big top; the pounding of the stakes as the tents go up, the elephants trumpeting, lions roaring, the crowd cheering, the whistle of the circus train, and so forth. The circus occupies 3,800 square feet. I found it hard to believe that in its hey day the circus was all that big and did employ over a thousand people. It took four hours each day to get the tents up and the shows ready to go. The circus model also shows the "hotel' where all the workers were fed three meals a day.
The Golden Age of the American Circus lasted from 1870-1938. The Ringling Brothers worked hard to insure that it was the greatest show on earth. They sent agents around the world to find new acts and unique attractions. Until the circus came to town many people had never seen a bear, lion or zebra. It was a time that saw the likes of such clowns as Emmett Kelly and Lou Jacobs. The latter was not only a clown but a great contortionist. He could get his six foot frame into the car pictured below, which was all of 23 inches high.

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