The Greatest Show on Earth is over. After a long goodbye, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is going out of business. The door has closed on one of America’s greatest institutions. The spectacle, the hype, the bright lights, the aura of danger—it’s now a part of history. And so much of that history happened here in Sarasota. The Circus Museum at The Ringling documents the story of the circus in vivid detail, but there’s another way to see how closely the circus is woven into the fabric of the community. Throughout Sarasota and Manatee, ghostly reminders of the circus remain. Some are hiding, some are in plain sight. Faded vestiges of their former glory, they evoke the decades, from 1927 to 1992, when the region was the Winter Headquarters of the Greatest Show on Earth, training ground and year-round home to a host of stars, performers, roustabouts and wild animals.
The Showfolks of Sarasota, a social club for performers, is in DeSoto Acres, a neighborhood that was once zoned “Circus” and allowed residents to keep elephants. It was built in the 1960s and was a gathering place for many circus legends. Fewer circus folks live here today, but the club is still open. Inside you’ll find rooms hung with memorabilia and a dark and somewhat gloomy bar that defines the phrase “glory days.”