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Scope of the Archives


In 1986, the Museum was undergoing a gallery restoration project. Historical records and materials were needed for this project. Because records were stored in various offices in three separate buildings across the campus with no organizational control research was difficult and, at times, nearly impossible to do. In January 1987, Director of the Museum, Dr. Laurence Ruggiero, presented a proposal to the Board of Trustees to establish a Museum Archives and the motion passed. A National Historical Publications and Records Commission grant in 1989 provided the initial funding for the Archives. 

The Ringling Archives has grown to become an integral part of the Museum providing information to each of the Museum’s departments. The Archives holds: the records of the Museum; Ringling Family papers; photograph collections; Circus Arts, Wild West shows and allied arts collections; and manuscripts. 

Records of the Ringling

Records of the Museum consist of the official public records that document the history, organization and programs of the Museum. There are records of: Florida State Board of Control; the Governing Boards; Committee and Councils; Office of the Museum Director; Office of the Museum Curators; Office of the Registrar; Office of the Chief Operating Officer; Education Department; Finance Department; Public Relations Office; Development Office; Conservation Department; Sales Department; Marketing and Communications and the Facilities Department.

Materials include correspondences, memorandums, guides, reports, proposals, organizational charts, budgets, financial records, photographs, moving images, audio recordings, minutes, transcriptions; printed materials, publications, scrapbooks, itineraries, plans, architectural drawings, blue prints, histories, inventories, digital records, maps, and drawings.

* There are approximately 2000 linear feet of unprocessed Museum records. 

Ringling Family Papers

The Ringling family papers include those that were located in the Ca’d’Zan which are not complete as well as those gifted to the museum by Ringling family members. John Ringling’s business papers were seized and not returned by the Bureau of Internal Revenue. After, John Ringling’s death in 1936, the Ringling property and investments were managed by the North family and the attorneys for the State until 1946 when the property was transferred to the State. No attempt was made by either party to maintain or return John Ringling’s papers to the Museum. 

The bulk of the John Ringling papers span the years 1929-1935 and includes bills, receipts, auction catalogs, and correspondence that reflect John Ringling’s interests in Sarasota and throughout the country. There are records dealing with Ringling’s oil holdings, railroad, real estate, hotel and ranch holdings and material on the Art Museum and circus. The files on the Crow Indians of Montana are worth noting as they reflect the attitudes of the times regarding the oil industry, the environment, and Native Americans.  

Additional Ringling family papers include Mable Ringling Papers, 1911-1928; Emily Buck Ringling papers, 1931-1934; J. E. Kirk Papers, 1935-1938; Estate Records of John Ringling 1937-1946; North Family Papers, 1936 – 1948. 

* There are 9 linear feet of Charles Ringling Papers to be processed. 

Photographic Collections

Photographic Collections include circus photographs depicting all aspects of the circus arts from the 1880’s to the 1960’s; Photographs of The Ringling; Ringling Family photographs, 1920 - 1930; Glasier Glass Plate Negative Collection 1890-1930; and the A. Everett Austin Lantern Slide Collection 

Circus Photographs
This collection was begun in 1948 when the Circus Museum first opened and has been added to from varying sources up until 1960. It is divided into nine subject categories representing major topics in circus. Within these groups, the photos are broken into categories either generically or by proper name of the group, performer, animal or activity. 

Ringling Family Photographs 
Ringling family photographs contain photographs of the Ringlings, various family members, friends and properties. The collection holds the few personal photographs that depict John and Mable Ringling enjoying their Sarasota home.

Photographs of The Ringling
The Ringling photographic collection, 1946 – present, holds images depicting the architecture, staff and special activities of the Museum. Changes to the complex over the years are evidenced in this collection. 

Glasier Glass Plate Negative Collection
Glasier Glass Plate Negative Collection, 1890-1930 captures every aspect of circus operations as well as Wild West shows and Native Americans. There are 1,450 8"x10" & 400 5"x7" glass plate negatives in this collection.

Circus Arts, Wild West Shows and Allied Arts Collections

In 1927, John Ringling brought the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Winter Quarters to Sarasota.  Over the years, hundreds of people visited Winter Quarters and many of the circus families found Sarasota as their home.  

There were no provisions in John Ringling’s will to establish a circus museum on the Museum campus. In 1948, Museum Director, A. Everett Austin conceived of the idea to establish a museum celebrating circus on the Museum grounds. Austin and the Board of Control considered it as a second attraction drawing the circus community, circus fans and general public.  

The Museum’s Circus, Wild West shows and allied arts collections grew quickly.  The Archives continues to be a repository where performers, fans and collectors donate their materials. 

These collections hold: heralds; couriers; hand bills; route books; route cards; route sheets; programs; press clipping books; press clippings; circus plans and blue prints; tickets; passes; print plates; records, correspondences; a wide variety of printed advertising materials; memorabilia; moving images; sound recordings; photographs; ledgers; day books; scrapbooks; diaries; newsletters; serials; publications; press books, letterhead; agreements, contracts, record books, menus, postcards, greeting cards, and financial records. 

Manuscripts and Papers

Manuscript collections include those that: contain papers of individuals who have had a great impact on the Museum; documentation about the Museum and/or its impact on Sarasota; papers of individuals or families involved in circus,  Wild West shows and allied arts ;and information on the history of winter quarters in Sarasota. Manuscripts  include diaries, letters, speeches, and other writings by individuals associated with circuses and/or Wild West shows, or with allied shows that have a connection to such circuses or Wild West shows. 

Black Collection, 1878 – 1978
Jung Papers, 1920 – 1965
Kelly Papers, 1924-1979
Hatch Manuscript, ca 1959
McCarty Papers, 1929-1969
McKennon Papers, 1960-1992
Plowden Manuscript, 1967

* There are approximately 2000 linear feet of Circus Arts, Wild West shows and Allied Arts collections and manuscript materials to be processed.

Audio Visual Materials

Audio visual materials consist of primary source visual materials (in various analog and digital formats) that depict the activities of the circus arts, Wild West shows or with allied arts that have a connection to such circuses or Wild West shows, including visual documentaries.
Visual and sound recordings (in various analog and digital formats) that document the circus arts, Wild West shows or allied arts or have a connection to such circuses or Wild West shows, including audio documentaries.

[1] The definition of “manuscripts” as provided here is consistent with the several definitions as found in the glossary of terms on the Society of American Archivists website one of which is: “Although manuscript literally means handwritten, 'manuscript collection' is often used to include collections of mixed media in which unpublished materials predominate