Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, step right up once again for the Greatest Show on Earth. This is part two, where we enter into the Ringling Circus Museum portion of our tour. See part one in the previous post.

The Ringling Circus Museum building is home for The Wisconsin, Ringling’s private train car. In here you will also find an exhibit about the making of the movie The Greatest Show on Earth, more circus wagons, and an exhibit of the different types of railroad car set ups.

In the first room, we find the train models which were used for the special effects scenes in the 1952 movie, The Greatest Show on Earth.

The car on top is wrecked and mangled. It was used in the crash scene when the lions escaped.

The movie is playing on a monitor in the exhibit.

John Ringling North, a nephew of John Ringling, served as a technical advisior on the film and was such a good actor that he ended up playing himself in the movie. At the time, he was the owner of The Greatest Show on Earth.

In addition to film actors, the real Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus 1951 troupe appears in the film, with its compliment of 1400 people, hundreds of animals and 60 railroad cars of equipment and tents.

Some of the lights used.

Also in this room is an exhibit of sketches by costume designer Miles White.

The next room is a huge open space where circus wagons and The Wisconsin Train Car vie for attention.

The Wisconsin Railroad car was John and Mable Ringling’s first private car. Built by the Pullman Company in 1905 it’s 65 tons, 79 feet long, 14 feet high and 10 feet wide. The Ringlings used the car in their travels around the country. It was named The Wisconsin honoring the state in which the family lived and the circus was quartered.

The observation platform.

The interior of the car is viewed through the windows from a catwalk outside. It’s very difficult to angle for a camera view.

This is the best I could do.

The Observation lounge which served as a drawing room.

There are three bedrooms on The Wisconsin which are known as staterooms. This is Stateroom C, the wood used is the koka, an Asian tree known for its deep red color. The ceiling’s original colors and gold leaf were discovered under layers of paint during restoration.

Mable used stateroom B as her bedroom. It is identical to stateroom C except for the interior finish which reflects Mable’s tastes (it’s hard to see the difference in the picture). The wood used here is Primavera. This stateroom, a connecting bath and Stateroom A could be used as a master suite.

The car had hot and cold running water. Tanks mounted under the car in addition to a water tank in the kitchen held the water supply. The drains discharged automatically right onto the tracks.

Stateroom A was John Ringling’s private room and had a full bed, a small chest of drawers, wardrobe, built in cabinets over the bed and storage under the bed. Above the bed was a “cinder shade” that protected the occupant from cinders blown into the room through open windows. Because of water damage, excessive restoration work was needed on the ceiling.

The dining room was a space for meals, business meetings and card games. The extension table sat eight. The sofa made into an upper and lower berth. Extensive restoration was done in this room. The walls were stripped of paint and the ceiling repaired and re-stenciled. In the far right corner of the ceiling (lower picture, middle, top), an original stencil can be seen.

In addition to these rooms are crews quarters which were more utilitarian in design. Below is the kitchen. Unusual to the car was this hotel car range with a broiler rather than the standard small range.

The passageway.

Back down on the floor we examine more circus wagons. This one is called the seal wagon. It was specially built with a sunken tank and used to transport seals and baby hippos.

The Griffin Wagon has an interesting story.

Circus wagons are works of art. Circus World in Baraboo, Wisconsin has a world class collection of them.

Stepping into the next room, train cars are set up in a circle as if on the back lot of a circus. Exhibits show the way the cars were used. This part is very dark, very little lighting.


Harness repair shop.

Machine shop.

Hotel, food prep.


We’ve finished our tour of this museum and the only thing we have left is the art museum.

As we step inside and begin to look at the art of the great masters, it occurs to me that I’ve never seen any paintings by the masters in real life. This is amazing to me because my father was a commercial artist and I was raised on art of all kinds. I regularly attended fine art shows where he was a judge. I spent most of my life in galleries and museums and yet it seems that this caliber of art is a first for me. As soon as I got close to the paintings, I teared up. Like everyone, I’ve seen my fair share of pictures of historical art but I guess I never realized how much texture and color and little details could be seen in the originals. I just wanted to sit down in the room and be with them. I understand now why benches are strategically placed in art museums. The sad thing is, the hour is very late and we’re forced to rush through. I took as many pictures as I could in order to remember.

I’m already planning a return trip.

Here is a little of my drive by recording.

There was a room of massive works of Peter Paul Rubens who is my favorite and I loved the work so much but it was so big I was unable to photograph it.

The museum also contains some interior rooms brought from famous mansions. This is the Astor mansion salon and library.

I don’t remember the story of this large bust but I really liked it.

I’m particularly fond of military portraits for some reason.

I’m also fond of extremely detailed paintings. My father was a very skilled photorealistic painter. These particular paintings, when viewed close, had such minute detail they must have been painted with a single hair brush!

A room full of Harlequin.

The pink room.

The dark and moody room.

I’ve seen these food face portraits somewhere but never in person.

The museum is closing, we don’t have time for the Asian wing. This is it.

It’s raining as we’re leaving and I’m sad we didn’t have more time here. I can say this, the collection is very eclectic, there is something for everyone. This is a world class art museum and well worth a visit. The gift shop and bookstore are well stocked with art books, art supplies, circus themed gifts and more. I could have spent a lot of time browsing in there too

Our time here has ended. Be sure to visit The Ringling, plan enough time and you won’t be disappointed!

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