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Five Fun Facts From Discover Sarasota Tours About What Makes Our Town Special

Discover Sarasota promises it offers fascinating insight into Sarasota's rich cultural past.

By Ilene Denton November 30, 2018 Published in the December 2018 issue of Sarasota Magazine

A new trolley tour company launched this fall with costumed guides who offer, as founder Tammy Hauser promises, “tours of the most interesting people, intriguing places and amazing stories that shaped Sarasota’s rich cultural past." We asked Hauser to share a few. (She also promises that the trolleys are air-conditioned!)

Col. John Hamilton Gillespie

“Many consider Col. John Hamilton Gillespie, an early settler from Scotland who became Sarasota’s first mayor, the father of American golf. In 1886 he built a practice course with two greens and one long fairway between what is now Main Street and Ringling Boulevard.” 

M'Toto and Gargantua

“M’Toto, the [Ringling Brothers circus] gorilla, was my neighbor. She lived three doors down from me on Virginia Drive in a 79-foot-long house for many years because she did not get along with Gargantua, the other circus gorilla. The house reminded M’Toto of a train car in which she was raised.” 

The unfinished Ritz-Carlton before it was demolished in 1964.

“In 2001, Sarasota's Ritz-Carlton hotel opened its doors and welcomed well-heeled guests from around the world. That is exactly what John Ringling had in mind when he began building a Ritz-Carlton Hotel on the southern tip of Longboat Key in 1926. With construction well under way, a series of financial setbacks forced the circus magnate to abandon the luxury hotel. John Ringling passed from the scene in 1936, but the massive hulk of the unfinished Ritz-Carlton remained until it was finally razed in 1964.”

The Gator Club is said to be haunted by "ladies of the night."

Image: Gene Pollux

“The Gator Club has been a bar for 70-plus years. It used to be a grocery store, cigar shop, soda fountain and brothel and is said to be haunted by ladies of the night.” 

Image: Chad Spencer

“The patron saint of the circus is St. Julian. He is patron of carnival workers, circus workers, clowns, jugglers... and murderers. St. Martha’s Catholic Church [on Orange Avenue] is known as the circus church because before every season, circus performers would be blessed there for a safe season of performances.”

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