Welcome To My Blog

Weekends are for wandering Wisconsin. That's what Rick, my guy, and I do. Occasionally we wander during the week, too. Sometimes we just drop in on other people's lives.

This blog is my way of sharing where we've been, neat places and things to do that we've found.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Florida Circus

What do Baraboo, WI and Sarasota, FL have in common? Think three rings: clowns, horses, elephants, jugglers, trapeze artists – yes, the circus! John Ringling, youngest of the five brothers who began the Ringling Bros. Circus in Wisconsin, made Sarasota synonymous with circus throughout the world. The Ringling brothers had purchased the Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1907 but operated the two separately until 1919. It was at that time that the Ringlings moved their circus winter quarters from Baraboo to Bridgeport, CT where the Barnum & Bailey Circus wintered. John, the only surviving brother, then moved the winter quarters of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the Greatest Show on Earth, to Sarasota in 1927.

John Ringling and his wife, Mable, purchased waterfront property in Sarasota in 1911 and built an incredible mansion, Cà d'Zan, on the site. Their palatial home was built in the Venetian Gothic style and means “House of John,” in a Venetian dialect. We took a small group guided tour of the Ringlings' home and learned more about the couple. Apparently if a guest was not favored by John, he would make that person sit at the dining table with his back to the beautiful view of Sarasota Bay!  
Cà d'Zan has been described as the "last of the Gilded Age mansions" to be built in America.
Ceiling decor in one of the rooms.
The chandelier in the grand entrance.
One of the prettiest parts of the 20-acre estate was Mable’s rose garden. Simple flowers, Nature’s beauty. None of the gauche trappings that could be seen in the mansion.

Probably the best part of the visit was at the Circus Museum where we learned about the world’s largest miniature circus from the creator of this work himself, Howard Tibbals, a master model builder and philanthropist. He was at the Museum for the grand opening of a wing he funded. It was pure serendipity that we happened to be viewing the miniature circus exhibit when Mr. Tibbals was explaining to a local newspaper reporter how he fashioned this model of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (circa 1919-1938) over a period of more than 50 years. Mr. Tibbals did his research from thousands of images of the circus and used glass plate negatives from our Circus World Museum in Baraboo. Rick couldn't have been more pleased to meet this incredible craftsman and asked many questions as we toured.
Howard Tibbals with his model of the circus train.
Horses in the circus parade that enticed the townspeople to come to the circus.
Posters like these can also be seen at Circus World Museum in Baraboo. 
This is it for Florida wanderings. Next time we’ll be closer to home.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Florida Art

While it was a few weeks ago that we were in Florida, I still have a few more places that we visited to write about. During one of the cooler days when the temperature didn't get above 50, we checked out two art exhibits in St. Petersburg.

The new Dali Museum,  home to the Salvadore Dali collection of Eleanor and Reynolds Morse, opened just about a year ago.  It's hard to know if Dali was a genius or a mad man. I had seen what is probably his most famous work, The Persistence of Memory (or Limp Watches-as I call it), at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and was interested to see what more might be in this museum. I was a bit concerned that Rick might not particularly enjoy all that art. Turns out that he ended up spending more time gazing upon the works than I did! The museum put together a very good audio tour of selected Dali works so it was easy to learn about and enjoy the paintings and sculptures at our own pace. 

The museum itself is a work of art. It looks like a geodesic
dome that is squirting out of a concrete block. No two glass
pieces in the dome are the same - an engineering nightmare!
A spiral staircase in the center leads to the main exhibit floor.
An outside bench executed in the spirit of Dali.
Dali's moustache!
The other art exhibit we visited in St. Petersburg was the Chihuly Collection. Dale Chihuly was educated at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He was a student of Harvey Littleton whose glass works can be seen in many museums around the world. 

We had seen Chihuly's work at the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago a decade before and were familiar with his organic forms and stunning colors. We waited for the docent-led tour of this collection and it was worth the wait. She was knowledgeable about the artist and his works. She also told interesting stories about the installation of the exhibit itself.

The only pictures we could take were in the gift shop. This piece is for sale -
for several thousand dollars.

A poor man's Chihuly - at the Pioneer Florida Museum and Village
in Dade City. 
Stay tuned for my final post about our Florida vacation - and another Wisconsin connection.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Old Florida

Long before Walt Disney created his Magic Kingdom out of sleepy Central Florida, railroad magnate Henry Plant built Florida’s first magic kingdom, the Tampa Bay Hotel.

The hotel was more than just rooms; it was a luxury resort where guests could play golf, swim in an indoor pool, attend concerts, gamble at the casino, and even hunt. Opened in 1891, the hotel had more than 500 guest rooms yet only operated for the winter season. In its day, this hotel with its minarets, was one of the most magnificent buildings in the country. Today it’s a National Historic Landmark and home of the University of Tampa and the Henry B. Plant Museum. Several rooms have been restored to show what life was like for those Eastern snowbirds who visited this magical place. It’s easy to imagine how guests may have relaxed, dined, and simply enjoyed the setting back in the Victorian Age.
This is one of several minarets on the hotel built in the
Moorish style. 
A reminder of how to behave at the hotel!
The citrus industry has been an important part of Florida’s commerce since the last quarter of the 19th century. We visited the Pioneer Florida Museum and Village in Dade City where a historic citrus processing line is on exhibit along with a number of posters from a bygone era. The sugar industry is also a major component of Florida’s agricultural economy. We were treated to a “show” of what the industry was like in the early 20th century at the annual Central Florida Syrup Raising Cane Tasting Contest & Cane Grinding at the Museum. We saw how the raw cane syrup was boiled down much like maple sap is turned into syrup here in Wisconsin.
Provocative advertising is nothing new! 
Cigar making was one of Florida’s earliest industries. One of the pioneers of this industry was Vicente Martinez Ybor who moved his cigar making operation from Key West to Tampa because of the railroad that Henry Plant brought to the area. He also built a company town, Ybor City, today a National Historic Landmark District. By 1900 Ybor City, which is now part of Tampa, was known as the “Cigar Capital of the World.” Today there are cigar shops in Ybor City where you can see cigars being hand-rolled just as they were during days gone by.
This guy was on the wall in one of the cigar shops.
Florida is also known for the sponging industry and the center of that enterprise is in Tarpon Springs. At the end of the 19th century, Greek immigrants to the area expanded the business. Their influence is still seen in the many shops and restaurants that line the sponge docks today.
We took a boat tour of the sponge beds and saw a
demonstration of how diving was done with historic equipment
and gear. Getting into the suit is a time-consuming process
so the diver who does the demonstration keeps it on all day. He's
careful about what he drinks because he can't go to the bathroom
in that get-up. Turns out our diver was from Stevens Point!