Editor, Manteca Bulletin,
I grew up in Sarasota Florida where the Ringling Circus had their winter quarters. I was among the people that were in attendance at the last big top benefit for residents. We lived about five miles from the winter quarters and we could hear the lions roaring at feeding time in the evenings and mornings.
The circus was run by John Ringling Jr. the last of the Ringling owners. He had a railroad built over the bay that he stayed in the duration of the winter. It was lined with red plush material. I worked for the Western Union at the time and had to walk the tracks to give him his messages. Of course he had a butler, and I never met him. I used to deliver message to the great clown Emmet Kelly as well. I also saw Cecil B. Demille filming the greatest show on earth and I also had a conversation with Betty Hutton one of the stars of the film. I saw Cornell Wilde as he emerged from a new Green Cadillac to enter his temporary residence, the Sarasota Hotel.
I didn’t meet Charleston Heston, I guess he didn’t have a need to mingle much with people. Cecil Demille was a very short person and his attire was flared riding pants and laced logging boots. He was at the front of a town parade filming the parade scene himself. School kids were used as extras to film the tent shows used in the film.
At that time Ringling used older Mack trucks with chain drive and every year we witnessed the circus train coming in from the road shows. The winter quarters were a place that they performed maintenance on the train in preparation for a new year of travel. New paint schemes were applied and they did a beautiful job. New circus performing acts was honed to perfection for the next season.
Pretty much everything that put Sarasota, Florida, on the map hinged around the Ringling Dynasty. The Sarasota Museum of Art and the famous Ringling Art school. The Palmers’ were the second famous family of vast wealth who owned thousands of acres of orange groves that provided employment. They were also the bank owners of the city. I worked as a kid in this large orange grove, but I didn’t work for the Palmers, for it was bought out by Snow Crop that had Bing Crosby as the principal stock holder. Some of my hardest days of work were performed in this grove.
I have visited Sarasota many times since then and It makes me sad when I see the change. Sarasota downtown has many high rise buildings surrounding a bay that was once pristine with beautiful trees that flowered every year. The many orange groves fell prey to infrastructure. I remember the smell of orange blossoms every year and there is no smell like orange blossoms. One of the things I enjoyed was walking through a grove to find the tangerine trees. Yes! Florida has changed from its wooden causeways we used to fish on. No fishing allowed now on the concrete replacements.
In writing this, I just wanted to share some of the events of my life that I cherish to this day. I felt compelled to share my past with someone in memory of the closing Greatest Show on Earth.