Journals of Yesteryear

Hall Founded to Honor Circus Folks

Author: Mark D. Smith
Source: Sarasota County History Center
Photo Credit: Sarasota County History Center

The circus has been a part of Sarasota’s history since the late 1920s, when the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus established its winter headquarters here.

By the mid-1950s, a group of men decided that a museum was needed t pay tribute to the men and women who performed, worked and managed the circus. With this goal in mind, the Circus Hall of Fame came into being.

In an interview with the Sarasota Herald Tribune in 1963, Managing Director, Colonel W.W. Maramore Jr., of the attraction at the time, recalled that the primary motive for its establishment was to provide a home for the “Two Hemispheres” band chariot; the largest and most colorful circus wagon ever built. The wagon was built in 1896 at a cost of $40,000. Drawn by a hitch of 40 matched horses, it was used for years in the parades of the old Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Acquired by the late Dr. B.J. Palmer of St. Armands Key and Davenport, Iowa, during World War II, the historic wagon was rejected by three museums. Palmer offered it to John L. Sullivan and Dr. H. Chester Hoyt , curators at that time of the Museum of the Circus, a division of the Ringling Museum.

Sullivan and Hoyt, who had large collections of circus memorabilia of their own, decided to pool their collections with Dr. Palmer’s gift and establish the Circus Hall of Fame. It would be, they felt, a popular tourist attraction for Sarasota, considering that it was the winter headquarters of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

The Circus Hall of Fame was established with five objectives: to publicly honor circus stars, to collect and display mementos of the stars, to maintain a circus historical library, to develop and train stars of the future and to create an understanding of the educational and recreational value of the circus.

A Hall of Fame committee was instituted to recognize the achievements of circus maintenance personnel, management and performers who contributed to the greatness of the American circus. The committee consisted of 12 circus historians who annually chose personalities to be included in the Hall of Fame. The Circus Hall of Fame, at 6255 North Tamiami Trail, across from the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport, first opened to the public on January 4, 1956, with more that 5,000 people attending. Four professional circus act performers were given daily in addition to tours of the circus museum, puppet shows and tours of the side show museum. Exhibits included Tom Thumb’s coach, which was presented to him by Queen Victoria; Jenny Lind’s sleigh, given to her more than 110 years ago by P.T. Barnum; a collection of antique puppets; Buffalo Bill’s chaps and one of the guns used by Annie Oakley in Buffalo Bill’s 101 Ranch Wild West Shows; a life-size bust of Gargantua; Ringling Bros. famous gorilla; and more than 200 non-retouched photos of sideshow characters. The crossbar, chair and one of the costumes used by the Wallenda Family when their famous seven-man pyramid on the high wire collapsed in Detroit in January 1962 were added later.

The Circus Hall of Fame was a popular attraction for more than 20 years; however, by the late 1970s, the stockholders wanted to sell the museum. After negotiating the sale of the property and the collection, the Circus Hall of Fame’s had its last performance on May 27, 1980.

Rate This Article

Total Votes: 3 Avg Vote: 4


Thank you for your comments!

You must be logged in to leave a comment.


Sarasota County History and Preservation Organizations


Get Our Free Weekly Newsletter

sign up

Featured Journals

The Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918

This winter season has brought a new variety of influenza to the United States. There have been many warnings about this flu and some comparisons have been made to the great flu epidemic of 1918 that swept the world.

Read More »
Venice Survived Boom and Bust Times

The City of Venice celebrates its 88th anniversary this coming April. Venice has come a long way since its beginning. The Knight family first homesteaded in the area in 1869, along with other pioneer families. The community that grew up in the region of Dona Bay became known as Horse and Chaise. Others began to come into the area in the late 1880s. Among them the Higel and J.H. Lord families, who purchased land and began experimenting with citrus and honey making.

Read More »
Gopher Hooks and Other Obsolete Tools

When I was four or five years old I found out that our next door neighbor, to the east, Mr. Pennington, who was a carpenter by trade, had a gopher hook. His daughter, Anna Frances, around my age, showed it to me and told me what it was. At that time, around 1939, we lived on Glengary Road. This was out in the country about three blocks south of Bee Ridge Road. My grandparent's house, where we stayed, was on 1 ½ acres of land.

Read More »
User ID :
Password :
Log In

Wrong user name or password!