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Biography of Mable Ringling


Mable Burton Ringling (1875-1929)

When and how Mable Burton met John Ringling is today a matter of conjecture. What is known is that they married on December 29, 1905 when she was thirty and he was thirty-nine. By all accounts their marriage was a happy one in which they delighted in their shared interests in travel, art and culture.

A Woman of Humble Origins

Like her husband, Mable Burton Ringling was a woman of humble origins. Born on March 14, 1875 in the farming community of Moons, Ohio, Mable was one of five daughters and a son born of George Wesley and Mary Elizabeth Burton. By the turn of the 20th century, she left Ohio to pursue her future.

Creating Ca’ d’Zan

During her travels with John, Mable fell in love with the grace and grandeur of Venice. In 1923, they commissioned the architect Dwight James Baum to build their dream home, modeled on the Doge’s Palace and the Cá d’Oro in their beloved Venice.

Mable oversaw every aspect of the construction, from the glazing of the tiles to the mixing of the terra cotta. She designed much of the original landscaping on the grounds of the estate, including her Rose Garden and Secret Garden. And while the house was to be called Ca’ d’Zan, Venetian dialect for “House of John”, it was really, as one writer later observed, truly “John’s love letter to Mable.”

The house, completed in 1926, soon became the site of lavish musicales, as well as garden and dinner parties. There were Gatsbyesque parties that lasted till dawn, with an orchestra playing from the Ringling yacht moored just off the marble terrace, entertaining guests such as the Governor of New York Al Smith, comedian/philosopher Will Rogers, New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker and famed producer Flo Ziegfeld and his wife Billie Burke, best known as Glenda, the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz.

A “Conspicuous Buyer”

Though it was John who took the lead in building the collection that has become the foundation of the Museum of Art, Mable was listed on the Museum’s charter as a Director and Vice President of the Museum’s Corporation.

Like John, she favored purchasing items at auction. At the George J. Gould estate sale in 1924, she drew attention as a “conspicuous buyer,” purchasing many items well above their estimated worth, among them a $10 phone for which she bid and paid $75. Among the Museum’s archives her notes to herself about not only what to buy, but also about where she wanted her purchases placed in the mansion.

A Rich Legacy

Suffering from diabetes and Addison’s disease, Mable passed away on June 8, 1929. It was a loss from which John never really recovered. They had found in one another a shared love of travel, art and culture, of things Italian and of Sarasota, where this remarkable woman left the rich legacy we are fortunate to still enjoy today.

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