Families Delight in Sarasota’s Unique Circus Heritage

SARASOTA, Fla., May 5 /PRNewswire/ — From acrobats to Lipizaans and colorful clowns to the center stage, Sarasota and Her Islands — located on Southwest Florida’s Gulf Coast — is steeped in the colorful character that is “The Greatest Show on Earth.” The vivid excitement that has inspired generations comes alive along the satin soft sands of Sarasota and encourages a new generation of travelers to experience the magic of the big top, master the flying trapeze and visit the Venetian “castle” that marks the legacy of Ringling.

The foundation of Sarasota’s unique heritage began with circus magnate John Ringling. He envisioned a cultural mecca and the ideal winter headquarters for the Ringling Brothers Circus. In 1927, the circus made its home in Sarasota, bringing laughter to her shores and providing a fanciful escape — even through the Great Depression. Among his more eccentric contributions, Ringling built the first bridge from Lido Key to the mainland using his elephants. Just blocks from Sarasota’s artist colony, Towles Court, circus-lovers stroll by the houses that John Ringling custom made for the “little people” that performed in his circus.

Getting into the act is easy in Venice, where families stop by The Flying Trapeze Academy & The Flying Fantasy Circus for a lesson on the trapeze. To gain a sense of Sarasota’s circus heritage, visitors dine at local restaurants, including Bob’s Place, where memorabilia decks the walls, paying tribute to the performers of old. For a different kind of homage, circus seekers follow the footsteps of both modern and historical greats — with ice cream in hand — along the European-style St. Armands Circle and the Circus Ring of Fame. While children let their imagination run wild with dreams of sequins, stilts and stars, parents peruse an eclectic array of boutique style shops. A treasure-trove fit for year-round holiday shopping, collections range from unique to outrageous — from delicate Russian-pulled glass butterflies at Leaping Lizards to ceremonial tribal masks from the former Zaire at the Ivory Coast.

Events centered on the circus are common throughout Sarasota and Her Islands, from Circus Spectacular at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art to the area’s very own Circus Sarasota — a European-style one-ring circus with performers from around the globe. Families watch even the local kids get involved in Pal’s Sailor Circus, dubbed the “Smallest, Greatest Show on Earth.”

The Ringling Museum complex, famous for its remarkable collections, intimate setting and the Ca d’Zan — John Ringling’s Venetian mansion he bequeathed to the state — also includes the Circus Museum. The museum conjures nostalgia with authentic and replica circus posters, caravans and costumes, at the same time inspiring awe amongst its younger patrons with child-sized entrances to the big top and larger than life exhibits. The newest addition to the complex is the Tibbals Learning Center. Set to open in 2006, the center will boast a plethora of children’s exhibits and, for the first time ever in its entirety, the miniature Howard Bros. Circus, the most accurate representation of the American circus ever created.

For more information on discovering the spirit of the circus along Sarasota and Her Islands, call the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800-522-9799 or visit http://www.sarasotafl.org/ .

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