The Circus Museum was established in 1948 to honor the memory of John Ringling. It was the first museum in the country to document the rich history of the American circus. It features many circus artifacts, including parade and baggage wagons, costumes, props, posters, and sideshow banners. It tells the story of the Ringlings, their circus, and its relationship to Sarasota, which was once the home of the winter quarters of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey show.
A highlight of the Circus Museum is the Wisconsin railcar on which John and Mable Ringling toured the country on business with the circus. Completed in 1905, this luxurious car gives visitors an impression of how the Ringlings traveled during the golden age of rail.
Opened in 2006, the Circus Museum’s Tibbals Learning Center houses displays of circus posters and parade wagons, a timeline of circus history, and a series of hands-on interactives that allow visitors of all ages to be center-ring stars. The entrance hall features a giant mural titled The Greatest Show on Earth, which presents a host of legendary circus performers of the 1970s and 1980s. This awe-inspiring work by artist William Woodward was donated in 2012 by the Feld Family and Feld Entertainment, Inc., the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.
At the heart of the Tibbals Learning Center is the Howard Bros. Circus Model, the world’s largest miniature circus. This extraordinary achievement is the life’s work of circus historian and model builder Howard C. Tibbals, who began constructing it in 1956. It gives visitors a sense of the scale and complexity of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows of 1919-1938.