The Greatest Show on Earth premiered at what is now the Sarasota Opera House in 1952.

The Greatest Show on Earth premiered at what is now the Sarasota Opera House in 1952.

Image: Alamy Stock

What Academy Award-winning Best Picture was filmed in Sarasota?

Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth, starring Charlton Heston, Betty Hutton and Jimmy Stewart, was primarily filmed here. It premiered at the Edwards Theater (now the Sarasota Opera House) in 1952. More than a thousand Sarasotans were paid extras in the film.

Who were the Van Wezels, for whom the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall is named?

Lewis, a diamond merchant, and Eugenia, Russian by birth and trained in the theater, were longtime Sarasota winter residents who died several years before the Van Wezel was constructed in the late 1960s. They left a charitable foundation that donated $750,000 for naming rights to the purple performing arts hall—a bargain for sure in today’s world.

Where did many of today’s circus clowns get their “degrees”?

Chances are at least some are graduates of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, which trained up-and-coming performers in the art of clowning, both in Venice and Sarasota over several decades before closing in the late 1990s. Among the famous grads: Bill Irwin, Penn Jillette and SpongeBob SquarePants writer Steven Banks.

Lewis and Irene Colson, Sarasota's first Black settlers

Lewis and Irene Colson, Sarasota's first Black settlers

Who were Lewis and Irene Colson?

Sarasota’s first Black settlers, they came to Sarasota in 1894. Lewis was a surveyor with the Florida Mortgage and Investment Company and helped map out the town of Sarasota. He was a former slave, a fisherman, landowner and reverend. He and his wife Irene, a midwife, settled in the neighborhood then known as Black Bottom, later called Overtown, and now known as the Rosemary District.

Elvis Presley performed in Sarasota in 1956

Elvis Presley performed in Sarasota in 1956

What did stripper Sally Rand, Tommy Dorsey, Will Rogers and Elvis Presley have in common?

They all performed at one time or another at downtown Sarasota’s Edwards Theater. Rumor has it a ticket to see the King of Rock ’n’ Roll swivel his hips here in 1956 cost 76 cents.

At what south Sarasota County site have saber-toothed tiger bones been found?

Warm Mineral Springs in North Port, Florida’s only warm-water springs, where archaeological digs have yielded the bones of saber-toothed tigers, giant sloths, tortoises and even camels.

Floridaland, 1960

Floridaland, 1960

Where was one of Florida’s most popular theme parks in the 1960s?

Floridaland operated from 1964 to 1971 on the site of what is now Southbay Yacht & Racquet Club in Osprey. Visitors could enjoy dolphin shows, gun fights and can-can dancers. Floridaland failed right around the time Disney World became the center of the tourism universe.

Can you name which iconic Sarasota restaurant boasted a waterfall?

That would be Zinn’s Restaurant on North Tamiami Trail, founded by “Mama” and “Papa” Zinn shortly after World War II. It’s long gone now, but it still turns up on vintage postcards, and it was hugely popular not only for its waterfall room but for its outside fountain, rock gardens, and, probably, the homemade pie that was 50 cents a slice.

The "Welcome Buddies" site at Five Points was the location for a big parade of veterans on Armistice Day in 1919.

The "Welcome Buddies" site at Five Points was the location for a big parade of veterans on Armistice Day in 1919.

Why is there a “Welcome Buddies” greeting at downtown’s Five Points roundabout?

Back during World War I, Five Points was the home of a large American flag honoring local soldiers and sailors. The “Welcome Buddies” site was also the location for a big parade of veterans on Armistice Day, 1919. In 2010, “Welcome Buddies” was once more part of Five Points with the historic inscription incorporated into the design for the then-new roundabout.

John Ringling brought the dwarfs at the Ringling Museum from Italy.

John Ringling brought the dwarfs at the Ringling Museum from Italy.

Why are there little stone men in a garden on the Ringling Museum grounds?

Because founder John Ringling wanted them there, of course. He bought the amusing stone dwarfs from Italy, and for years they presided over the Dwarf Garden originally located between the museum’s north wing and the separate Asolo Theater building. (Audiences could sip Champagne at intermissions there on opening nights.) Now they preside over the new garden location, near the Visitors Pavilion.

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