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Review of Circus Days in Sarasota & Venice

Added April 6th, 2004

By DON MOORE Senior Writer, Venice Gondolier

Kim Cool’s latest book, “Circus Days in Sarasota & Venice,” is a bit more down to earth than her first two offerings, “Ghost Stories of Venice” and “Ghost of Sarasota.”

The Venice Gondolier newspaper’s features editor has written a book everyone who calls Venice or Sarasota their home or their vacation retreat should read. If one is going to live here or vacation in the area he or she should know the local history.

And “The Greatest Show on Earth,” Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, helped make Sarasota and Venice what they are today. If John and Mable Ringing hadn’t arrived on the shores of Sarasota Bay 75 years ago, and shortly thereafter brought the most famous circus in the world here, these two towns would probably much the same as many other communities of similar size around the state–nothing to brag about.

Without the Ringlings and their circus there would not have been any Ringling Art Museum, or Ca d’ Zan, Clown College or possibly no Ringling Art School or New College. And Sarasota County would probably have not become one of the cultural mecca’s of Florida, or so the locals like to advertise.

Kim’s “Circus Days” book is much more than a history of the Ringlings’ local accomplishments and what they’ve meant to this area. Her book talks about circus royalty as neighbors, which they well could be if you live in Venice or Sarasota. Even today, years after the circus left both communities, circus performers and the many behind the scenes people needed to make their acts come to life still call one of these two communities their permanent home.

People like Gunther Gabel-Williams, the world-famous big cat trainer who fascinated generations of circus-goers, might be found waiting in line at a Venice restaurant, with his family like everyone else. You could, until a few years ago, drive down a certain residential street in Venice and see Tito Gaona, the show-stopping aerialists’ trapeze in the side yard of his home. If you were very lucky you might even watch Tito and his troop practicing their routine.

Kim’s new book make large and small circus celebrities sound like real people. Just like the rest of us, they go about their every day lives doing what most of us do. But these folks also have a second life under the lights performing incredible feats of skill, agility and daring that make us mere mortals scream with joy, delight and disbelief.

There’s another side of the circus story she doesn’t dwell on. And that’s what Sarasota County, and particularly Venice, Florida, lost when “The Greatest Show on Earth” left town in 1992.

No longer did the circus return by train to Venice and disgorge itself at the Seaboard Airline Railroad Depot, across the canal from the Gondolier’s main office located in downtown Venice. No longer did the elephants tromp across the bridge one behind the other holding on to the tail of the pachyderm in front with their trunk. No longer did the natives and the tourists line the streets of Venice to watch the homecoming.

Despite this loss, Kim sill believes Ken Field, principal owner of today’s circus, is “The Greatest Showman on Earth.” She maintains he’s the reincarnation of P.T. Barnum, the fellow that started the whole thing more than a century ago. Maybe she’s right.

Without Irving and Ken Field, father and son, there is little doubt “The Greatest Show on Earth” would not be what it is today. For that accomplishment we are indebted to them.

We are also indebted to Kim Cool for writing “Circus Days in Sarasota & Venice.” She made an American institution, that has enthralled children of all ages for generations, come to life. It’s an interesting read if you want to know more about the the circus stars and the people behind the scenes that make “The Greatest Show on Earth” live. It’s our local history

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1 Comment »
  1. I have read the book. Thank you for writing this book and reminding us all why Sarasota and Venice are what they are today. By the way, does anyone know what will become of the old Circus Arena? I would like to know.

    Comment by Kim Williams — January 17, 2010 @ 2:59 pm

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