Circus Confidential: A Sarasota subdivision's famous past

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Posted: Monday, May 12, 2014 11:00 pm

 

SARASOTA, Fla. -- For over thirty years, the city of Sarasota was the home to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus winter quarters. That land is now a housing development on North Beneva Road where people continue to find artifacts dating back decades ago.

Glen Oaks entrance

The year is 1927: Charles Lindbergh makes his first solo non-stop transatlantic flight, the Great Mississippi River Flood displaces more than 700,000 people, and perhaps the greatest baseball team ever assembled -- the Murderer’s Row New York Yankees -- sweep the Pirates to win the World Series.

It's also the year Sarasota gets its first real claim to fame. The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus moves its winter quarters to the Suncoast.

“It was like Wonderland,” says former performer Margie Geiger.

Filled with tents, railroad cars, and all kinds of animals, Ringling's 160-acre winter quarters quickly became a destination for ladies, gentlemen, boys and girls-children of all ages.

Ringling Sarasota winter quarters
Courtesy: Ringling.org

“Going in to the winter quarters, it was amazing…huge,” says Geiger.

So amazing that it was the setting for Cecile B. DeMille's 1952 Best Picture winner, The Greatest Show on Earth.

Geiger, a circus dancer and aerial artist, trained at the winter quarters for a number of years before the decision came down to move the venue to Venice in 1960. “They had Disneyland here before they ever had Disney World, and Sarasota let the greatest thing go.”

Present day, the former winter quarters is the Glen Oaks Estates housing development on North Beneva Road. “I enjoy the aspect of this community being on historic ground,” says resident Renee Gluvna.

Over the years at Glen Oaks, there have been some pretty neat finds dating back to the Ringling days. Interestingly enough, animal bones like this are often dug up. Just last year, a doberman pincher named Maggie dug up part of a femur in her owner's backyard. “She just comes running over with this thing in her mouth like she really found something important.”

It's unclear what type of animal the bone belonged to. However, construction workers found something very identifiable when digging a pool at Linda Purdom's home. “When we moved to our home, as the realtor showed us the lanai, there were large bones. One was almost three feet long. They told us an elephant had been buried there.”

Multiple elephants and other big animals were in fact buried throughout the winter quarters when they died.

Residents at Glen Oaks don't seem to mind it. “I don't think there are any ghosts of animals walking around,” says Jeanne Triplett.

There may not be any ghosts, but it's certainly a strange feeling, knowing the housing development used to be home to not only a major attraction, but the real greatest show on earth.

Ringling Winter Quarters entrance
Courtesy: Ringling.org

Residents at Glen Oaks say that over the years, in addition to bones, they have found items such as wheels, railroad spikes, and numerous tools from the Ringling era.

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