Legacy of Circus in Sarasota
SARASOTA “Circus Capital of the World”
John Ringling first visited Sarasota in 1909, when this quiet farming and fishing village had a population of just over 800. Realizing the real estate potential of the area, he bought numerous large parcels of land, including St. Armands, Bird Key, the south end of Longboat Key and 66,000 acres along the Myakka River.
In the late 1920′s, John was offered 156 acres of land if he would move his circus winter quarters to Sarasota. He recognized the many advantages of relocating, so in November, 1927, the circus train rolled into town as it would do for the next 33 years. Many other circuses followed the Ringlings, and Circus became an integral part of the social and economic life of Sarasota, giving our area its unique identity.
In 1950, Cecil B. DeMille directed The Greatest Show on Earth, a motion picture starring Charlton Heston, James Stewart and Betty Hutton. Much of the film was shot in Sarasota. Many local residents were used as extras, and circus artists advised and helped the stars with their stunts and appeared in the film. Its world premier was at what is now the Sarasota Opera House.
Today, the grand Ringling Winter Quarters is gone. While the area remains home base for many circuses and home to thousands of active and retired circus families, few Circus attractions are open to the public.
After an absence of many years, Sarasota once again has its own professional resident circus, Circus Sarasota, which mentors the Sailor Circus youth program to continue the legacy of the circus arts in this region.