Ringling Circus Winter Quarters, Sarasota, Florida


John Ringling (1866–1936), one of the seven Ringling brothers who dominated the development of the American circus in the late 19th and early 20th century, moved the winter quarters of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus from its original quarters in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Sarasota, Florida. Ringling’s vision, as recalled by Fred Bradna, equestrian director for the show, in his book The Big Top, was to “lay out the quarters like a zoo, and thousands of visitors will pay to see it. I’ll build an open-air arena exactly the size of Madison Square Garden, and on Sunday the acts can practice before an audience... Sarasota will become one of the most beautiful cities in Florida.” On Christmas Day 1927, the new winter quarters opened its doors to visitors. Families could see circus rehearsals as well as animals from all over the world at what was one of Florida’s top tourist attractions at that time. Sarasota became the center of the American circus, immortalized in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1952 Academy Award-winning film The Greatest Show on Earth, and the home to many circus artists and families, including the Concellos, the Wallendas, and Emmett Kelly. This 1933 photograph depicts a small boy with a circus zebra at the Sarasota quarters.

Last updated: December 14, 2012