“The Greatest Show On Earth” Comes Alive

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Ever dreamed of running away to join "The Greatest Show On Earth"? Well, by visiting part of the sixty-six acre estate of The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Tibbals Learning Center and Circus Museum in Sarasota, Florida that dream can come alive. It is an experience for young and old alike, and it is a trip that will never be forgotten.

As soon as you walk out of the Visitors Pavilion at the museum, you see a long sidewalk leads to a building with a miniature circus-like tent reading “TO THE BIG SHOW, MAIN ENTRANCE.” This is the entrance to the Tibbals Learning Center. With red, yellow, blue, and orange flags flowing in the wind from the top of the building, it appears to be a huge circus.

The experience begins as soon you enter the building. The entrance to the circus has a realistic clown mannequin balancing on a tightrope about thirty feet in the air. Catchy, well-known circus music plays in the background. The entrance to the miniature circus appears dim and the temperature of the room slightly decreases. As you walk on the gray carpet, windows showcase on both the left and right sides. At the top of each window, a bright light shines down on the miniature circus. Above you, the ceiling resembles the inside of a circus tent- meeting to a center at a point. From beginning to end, on the edges of the ceiling drops short, cloth, wave-looking curtains, giving the room a circus-feel. A long pathway leads to the whole miniature circus, circling around to the right and then to the left. The glass windows are clear and allow visitors to see to the other side of the room. The layout of the room gives visitors a close look to how a circus is set up.

The mini circus begins with 59-car train on railroad tracks, and beneath the cars is a sign that reads “Ladies and Gentlemen, Children of All Ages Welcome to the One, the Only Howard Bros. Circus!” The layout of the circus consists of mini figurines of various types of circus acts and set ups for a circus. In the beginning, the carts for the train are lined up waiting to be hooked together. Next, the Howard Bros. train is set up, leading to the mini workers setting up the tent for the circus. As the mini circus continues, 8 main mini tents, 152 mini wagons, 1300 mini circus performers and workers, and more than 800 mini animals showcase through the glass walls, filling the 3800 square-foot circus. The light in the room dims and the circus begins. All lights turn off in the mini circus, and nothing but mini spotlights circle around the fake audience, searching for the first act as the ringmaster announces what is to come. Mini performers showcase their talents-acrobats; juggling, animal tamers- and animals of all kinds growl and roar to impress the mini audience. It took Howard Tibbals 50 years to make the model of the circus and he makes the circus come alive.

The Tibbals Circus wasn’t the only circus attraction at the museum. The Circus Museum displays a large collection of rare handbills, posters and art prints on orange, red, and yellow walls. Some posters were hung up as a historical timeline to explain and show how the Ringling Bros. Circus began. This showed what the circus was like when John Ringling first started the circus, and what the circus was like today. On the way out of the Circus Museum mannequins dressed as past circus performers’ costumes from The Ringling Circus showcase in glass cases. A few mannequins stood tall on different platforms, also displaying the costumes of past performers, but giving visitors a closer look because they were in the open air, not trapped in a claustrophobic glass case. Shimmering, ostentatious, bright-colored costumes filled and brightened the room and left visitors wishing they were actually an act in the circus-just for the clothing.

The Tibbals Learning Center and Circus Museum once again brings running away with the circus to life and for some people a dream come true. All that’s missing is the popcorn.





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