If I say the word, Ringling, what do you think of ? Most likely, the circus. Well, part of my crazybrain immediately said, "Ringadingding", but we will disregard that. Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, right? The greatest show on earth!
You maybe didn't know that John Ringling, that's his winter home pictured here, is in Sarasota Florida a mere half hour from us. We visited it on New Year's Eve day. The gorgeous waterfront compound is not just their regency home, but also an art museum, a circus museum, a rose garden, magnificent park-like grounds and more. We were there all afternoon and did not have time to see it all.
It's the history of it all that fascinates me, of course. John Ringling was the fifth of seven sons. His family were farmers back in 1866 when John was born. The brothers were all very close and in 1870 the family circus started It was then called "The Ringling Brothers United Monster Shows, Great Double Circus, Royal European Menagerie Museum, Caravan and Congress of Trained Animals" (whew long name). By 1882 they had shortened the name to, "The Ringling Brosther Classic and Comic Concert Company". By 1889, it was large enough to travel by railroad.
In 1905, John married his beloved, Mabel and the brothers bought the Barnum and Bailey circus. Although John was a younger brother, he had a big personality and a whole lotta smarts. He became the front man very quickly. By 1907 they were known as the circus kings. The circus king established winter quarters in Sarasota Florida after 1919 and that's whenthe idea for this amazing house came into being.
Now as I said before John was a smart guy. He invested their circus profits in real estate, ranching, oil, railroads, art, and also invested heavily and successfully in the stock market. They had money to burn. In this era, the truly amazingly wealthy, the Kardashian wealthy, people believed strongly in conspicuous wealth. Private railroad cars, fancy cars, huge yachts and of course elaborate over the top homes. It wasn't just the Ringlings of course. People made money in oil, coal, gold, railroads and more. The gilded age homes of Newport Rhode Island had a similar high society that, for "the season" saw grand balls and other entertainment for the right people during the summer at the homes of the Vanderbilts and the Astors and other toney folks with whom the Ringlings dearly wished to rub elbows.
The Ringlings money, as society viewed it, circus money, was somehow tainted. The circus wasn't seen as being quite good enough and John Ringling was determined to change his status with the "right" people. So when he and Mabel set out to build this summer home, they hired architect, Dwight James Baum and took him on a trip to Venice Italy. They wanted their new residence to reflect the things that impressed them on their many trips to Italy.
While far too elaborate for my taste, I have to admit that the home is incredible. I did loved the stained glass, but the gold leaf on the door and window trims, the crown molding and a dozen other places is a little much. Still, the ceiling murals and marble floors cannot be denied. The amazing water views and chandeliers still delight. John Ringling was a man of vision and he made sure his new home had all of the latest gadgets and gizmos. They had seven devoted servants to take care of them and their guests. The Ringlings named their 30 room mansion, with the yacht moored out back, Ca d'Zan or House of John.
It took two years to build this summer home and cost them $1.5 million dollars. (More than $20 million in today's money) but at the time, John Ringling was one of the wealthiest men in the world. Upon completion in 1926, John and Mabel moved in and began rounds of lavish entertaining for their many friends, their families and of course, business associates. Finally, they had achieved their goal. They were accepted into "society".
Sadly, in June of 1929, Mabel Ringling passed away which marked the beginning of the end of a golden era. In October of 1929, John lost big in the stock market crash as did so many of his peers. He managed to hold onto his home, the museum and his beloved art collection but his health was failing and he died in December of 1936.
Ca d'Zan and the art museum was willed to the people of Florida. The people of Florida have been excellent caretakers of this property and have not only kept all things beautiful but have even continued to add to the collections and maintain the gardens in spite of the millions of visitors that pass through it's gates every year.
As I said originally, we only saw a small portion of what the Ringlings left for us to see when were visited this past weekend and plan to return. Hopefully soon. Hopefully often.
If you've never had the opportunity, I recommend it. It's an incredible glimpse into another time and really, another world.
Yup, this is me. Some people said, "Sam, you should write a Blog". "Well, there's a thought", I thought to myself. And so here it is.