The Greatest Show on Earth

A guest post from Sarasota’s beloved artist and historian, now relocated but still in our hearts, Deborah Dart:

It is still difficult for me to grasp the ending of The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. I lived most of my life in the city that was distinctly shaped by and benefited tremendously from their presence since 1927.

The Greatest Show on Earth ended Sunday May 21, 2017.

John Ringling knew what he was doing when the Florida building bust devastated the city in the 1920’s. Moving his circus winter headquarters to Sarasota brought visitors and business to the city while much of the state continued to struggle through heavily depressed times. With the winter quarters established in Sarasota it wasn’t long before every travel guide linked the city to the circus.

The Greatest Show on Earth... in Sarasota!

In the 1950’s entertainment attractions began popping up throughout Florida drawing visitors away from Sarasota and Ringling’s winter quarters circus performances. A grand metal entrance sign was erected to provide more visibility for attracting tourists to the quarters on what is today’s Beneva Road just north of Fruitville Road.

The circus became a favorite subject for me to paint and has given me some outstanding commissions from Feld Entertainment and The World Circus Federation. There are dozens of other circuses performing world wide but none will ever seem quite as great to me as the Greatest Show on Earth.

Deb Dart's artwork, Ringling

Love this art? Click to go to Deborah’s web shop.

You can visit my website to view more of my circus pieces and landscapes of Sarasota – www.dagdart.com

Stay safe and well!
Deborah Dart

Can you hear a pin drop?

Is it just, well, too quiet around your place? We have some audio suggestions.

With selections like Fire on the Mountain, Pat Shields, John McCutcheon & the Roberts Brothers,
Florida Memory Radio is presented by the State Archives of Florida. It is part of the Florida Memory Program, whose mission is to provide free online access to a growing number of archival resources from the collections of the State Library and Archives.

Florida Memory Radio provides worldwide, around-the-clock access to the Florida Folklife Collection recordings housed in the State Archives of Florida. Programming includes bluegrass & old-time, blues, folk, gospel, Latin and world music. Through the work of folklorists and archivists, as well as the legacy of creation passed on to future generations by the artists themselves, this music is preserved and enjoyed.

The Brox Sisters plus teddy bear!

(As curious as I am? Click the pic for The Brox Sisters doing Marlene Dietrich)

Florida Frontiers: The Weekly Radio Magazine of the Florida Historical Society is a weekly, half-hour radio program, a combination of interview segments and produced features covering history-based events, exhibitions, activities, places and people in Florida. We explore the relevance of Florida history to contemporary society and promote awareness of heritage and culture tourism options in the state. Stream them whenever it gets too quiet at home.

And finally, If you like moving pictures served up with your audio, we offer up Florida Frontiers Television.

(And when you get tired of all the noise, turn the speakers off and read all the Florida history articles they have for you here.)

There, these free sources should liven the amosphere up. Enjoy!

Pineapples in Sarasota: A History

Downtown Sarasota’s New Year’s tradition is to drop a giant pineapple at the stroke of midnight. Huh? Pineapples? Sarasota doesn’t have pineapples, does it?

Jan Thornburg's photo of the pineapple Sarasota drops for New Year's Eve

Well we did.

Yes, pineapples were once grown as a cash crop in Sarasota. William Whitaker, who homesteaded here in 1843, teamed up in the 1870’s or 1880’s with Charles Abbe, the postmaster of Sara Sota, as we see in this newspaper clipping:

Prof. C.E.Abbe and Wm. Whitaker growing pineapples in Sarasota

Bet you thought pineapples were native to Hawaii. Easy mistake to make. Here’s what Diana Harris, Englewood historian, wrote about that:

open quoteHawaii is so closely associated with pineapples that one might presume pineapples were indigenous to Hawaii, that they traveled from there to the West Indies and Florida.

Actually, the opposite is true. Surprisingly enough, it is recorded that pups, slips and suckers from pineapple plants were shipped from Florida to Hawaii in 1885, thus starting pineapple growing in Hawaii. In 1901, Jim Dole started what is now a world-famous operation, Dole Pineapple.” Read the whole article including why pineapples are no longer grown locally except in our gardens as a novelty.

Here’s the Historical Society’s nod to pineapple growing:

Pineapples in Sarasota, at the Historical Society of Sarasota County, 12th St & Tamiami Trail, in Pioneer Park

And of course there’s Pineapple Avenue. But then again, there’s Orange and Lemon and Cocoanut and even Osprey Avenue, and you don’t see a giant bird being dropped on New Year’s Eve, do you?

Turns out, the pineapple drop has nothing to do with our county history, and everything to do with developers….

open quoteSince 2000, downtown Sarasota has welcomed in the New Year with a free special event … known for dropping a bright, decorative pineapple at midnight—much like how New York City drops an apple.

There’s just one mystery—why is a pineapple used?

About 10 years ago, a development was planned for downtown called Pineapple Square. Part of the development was retail stores along Lemon Avenue and Main Street. This includes the current stores there such as Blue MercuryEileen Fischer, and Sur La Table.

“As part of the marketing for the development, attractive pineapple-shaped light fixtures were installed along the exterior of the stores,” says Jan Thornburg, senior communications manager for the City of Sarasota.

Also part of the plan was the use of a large, lighted pineapple right beside the Pineapple Square development to welcome the new year. and even though some parts of the plan never fully blossomed, the use of the lighted pineapple stuck around, becoming the new beacon for our massive New Year’s Eve block party.”

And yup, developers were and are a much more lucrative cash crop in Sarasota County.

Pineapples are a part of Sarasota county heritage
And now that we’ve whetted your appetite, how about a light modern Pineapple Upside Down Cake?

Fresh Pineapple Upside Down Cake. Highly recommended by the Historical Society of Sarasota County.

Sources Visit Sarasota , Jan Thornburg, The Englewood Sun and here’s the recipe.

“It will afford a grand opportunity for the dealers to work off their surplus of bandanas”

In so many ways, history repeats.

Downtown Sarasota in 1890.

1890. Plenty of parking.

In 1890, the house Alfred and Mary Bidwell built was not even ten years old. The Woods hadn’t even seen it, probably. Sarasota was a minor fishing village way south of Manatee.

But there was a pandemic in America.

It was called the Russian flu. But it wasn’t “just” a flu. It killed.

Initially, public health officials played down the dangers, arguing that the Russian influenza represented a particularly mild strain. Some officials denied that it had arrived at all and insisted that patients merely had the common cold or a more typical, seasonal flu.
The newspapers, too, treated the influenza as nothing to get worked up about. “It is not deadly, not even necessarily dangerous,” The Evening World in New York announced, “but it will afford a grand opportunity for the dealers to work off their surplus of bandanas.”

We were lucky 130 years ago. The pandemic died down in only a month or two. Of course, there was what was called the Spanish flu less than 30 years in the future.

Read more about the Russian flu on History.com.

Cooking through history.

Our mission during The Great Pause has been to keep you smiling, keep you thinking about a bit of history… and to keep you well-fed on our Facebook page . Here’s a quick sample of our daily Pantry Recipes, posted around 5 PM, and we can manage to intertwine a little of the history of eating….

Feeding hungry college students for over 100 years:

This heritage dish goes by multiple names, the Historical Society of Sarasota County found out.

Click to see what folks across the country call this humble casserole.

It’s a basic. Canned salmon has been available since the Civil War, and folks ordered canned goods from Sears Roebuck in Sarasota County in the 1880s and beyond.

Salmon patties have be a mainstay since canned goods were invented, says the Historical Society of Sarasota County.

Click to see just how many folks truly LIKE salmon patties (there’s a great contributed recipe for salmon salad in the comments there, too.)

Now this recipe for Magic Ribs might have been cooked up by Shakespeare’s three witches. Well, maybe not. The 2 major ingredients wouldn’t be invented until centuries later:

Click for the magic. They taste much more complex than their two common-place ingredients.

It’s just 15 seconds, but we think this little video about The Giving Challenge 2020 will help us all think #People1st #ThenBuildings

For The Giving Challenge 2020, think #People1st #ThenBuildings

Click to see how to #BeTheOne #UntilThisIsDone

On our page, we also greet you every morning with a Rise and Shine message, offer you a smile or two, and send you a relaxing soothing image to wish you sweet dreams. Follow the Historical Society page here.  And for a slightly more world-wise page, follow our Sara de Sota page as well.

Please view our video about how we can participate in the 2020 Giving Challenge the end of this month.

A history interlude

We’re having hard times right now, and if you spend ANY time online the media seem to make it even scarier. So we’ve dedicated our Facebook page to help you cope, to make you smile, to maybe even teach you a little history.

We know not everyone visits Facebook, so here’s some of or recent posts focusing on history. Stay tuned… soon we’ll share some of the best Pantry Recipe posts too!

Everyone enjoys a good video, right?

A video found by The Historical Society of Sarasota County

Click to view The Florida Dream.

It’s local. Two towns, both vitally important to Sarasota County history:

Cortez and Cedar Key both played roles in Sarasota County history

Click to visit Cortez and Cedar Key. Can you smell the fresh air and hear the water?

It’s great to learn, but sometimes it’s fun to look back just a few years:

Remember this phone?

Remembering when phone manners  were a thing.

It’s just 15 seconds, but we think this little video about The Giving Challenge 2020 will help us all think #People1st #ThenBuildings

For The Giving Challenge 2020, think #People1st #ThenBuildings

Click to see how to #BeTheOne #UntilThisIsDone

On our page, we also greet you every morning with a Rise and Shine message, offer you a smile or two, and send you a relaxing soothing image to wish you sweet dreams. Follow the Historical Society page here.  And for a slightly more world-wise page, follow our Sara de Sota page as well.

Please view our video about how we can participate in the 2020 Giving Challenge the end of this month.

Turning Beads into Beams!

We’re VERY excited to host our annual Sparkly Saturday on Sat., February 8 from 9am to 1pm. What’s Sparkly Saturday?

A “trunk show” of gently-used vintage, costume, unique, fine and fashion jewelry displayed for you in the Crocker Memorial Church, and a bonus tag sale on the porches of the Bidwell-Wood House.

Sparkly Saturday at the Historical Society of Sarasota CountyWhy are we so excited? Well first ’cause it’s fun, second ’cause who doesn’t love some fresh adornments, and third because the underpinnings of the Crocker Memorial Church are ready for some serious rehab. (Click for more.)

If you love to sniff out treasures, this is the event for you! And yes, folks, Valentine’s Day/ Galentine’s Day is just around the corner.

Lots going on this Saturday… that’s why we’re opening at 9am! Get first dibs, explore our offerings, then it’s off on your Trolley Tour, your class, your visit to the beach!

Presented in partnership with jewelrytotherescue.org

Haven’t you always wondered THIS about Sarasota County?

“Golly gee willikers,” you say to yourself. “How can I live/ visit here and not know…The Historical Society of Sarasota County is having an "Ask Me Anything [about Sarasota history]" event at Barnes & Noble

  • Who is St. Armand?
  • Why does Main Street dead end?
  • Did Ringling really use elephants to build the bridge?

or even:

  • Why do they call it Sarasota?

Well, here’s your chance to ask those questions that you’ve always wanted to know but were afraid to ask!

Ask Me Anything [about Sarasota history]

This Sunday, January 26 2020, volunteers from the Historical Society of Sarasota County will be at Barnes & Noble from 2 to 4 pm to chat one-on-one with you about things you’ve always meant to find out about how Sarasota County came to be the way it is.

In addition to folks who can stir your imagination and pique your curiosity, we will have renowned local authors signing their books, upcoming events listings, even Mable and John Ringling characters who would love to pose with you for selfies.

The cafe in the store is cooking up brownies to honor local history… which, perhaps you know (you didn’t? You need to come ask questions!), were “invented” by Bertha Palmer, Queen of Chicago and Legendary Lady of Sarasota, as a lady-like snack for the Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago! (Get there early and I’ll give you the original recipe!)

A small percentage of everything you buy that day in-store or online, will be donated to The Historical Society.

Your B&N purchases of anything and everything in the store will contribute to a donation to the Historical Society when you mention us at the cash register.

Can’t attend but would love for the Society to get credit for any B&N online purchase you make on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday? Type in our code  12582334  as you purchase to benefit the Historical Society.

Barnes & Noble is located at 4010 S Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, Florida 34231. Click for a map.

When was the last time you took a look at St Pete’s history?

Our intrepid travel volunteer, Jane Kirschner, is leading another of her fun and informative bus tours, and you need to join us!

St. Petersburg: Revitalizing History, A Bus Tour

The historic Vinoy Hotel in St. Petersburg

The historic Vinoy Hotel in St. Petersburg, one of our highlights during the bus tour.

With a guide from the “Preserve the Burg” group, we’ll see St. Pete’s fascinating historical highlights, including vibrant Central Avenue, the Detroit Hotel (1888), the 90-year-old St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club with over 1200 members, and the spectacularly restored Vinoy Hotel.

We’ll enjoy a gourmet lunch (included) at the renowned Chief’s with a choice of entrees before we explore the African American Trail, witnessing the amazing revitalization of The Deuces corridor and visiting the Woodson Museum.

Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020 8:00-4:30. Leaves from the Historical Society, 1260 12th St. between the North Trail and Cocoanut Ave. Free parking.

$80 Member, $90 not-yet-Member, includes lunch.

Reservations required. Grab yours now, we were a third full before our eager “tour”ists even knew the details!

  • Reservations can be mailed in, with your payment to: HSOSC, P.O. Box 1632, Sarasota, FL 34230*
  • To charge, call Linda Garcia, our Site Mgr., between 10 and 2 on weekdays 941-364-9076*
  • Questions about reservations? Email hsosc1@gmail.com
  • Any questions about the tour, please feel free to call: Jane Kirschner, Tour Organizer 941-320-7773 Cell

* What’s for lunch? Choose from the wide array Chief’s Creole Cafe will prepare for us, and tell us when you make your reservation:

1/ Shrimp & Cheesy Grits

2/ Gumbo

3/ Shrimp Po Boy

4/ “not too” Spicy Jambalaya

5/ Portabella Burger (vegan!)

6/ Chicken Salad

Nota Bene!! Luncheon includes: Your meal choice, non-alcoholic beverage and TIP! Beer and Wines are available at your extra cost. Please make note of your choice, on your calendar in case you don’t remember.

Bertha’s Been Busy Baking Brownies

Kate Holmes as Bertha PalmerOne of our most popular “spokespersons” from the Speakers’ Bureau at HSoSC is Bertha Palmer, here shown as presented by Kate Holmes. Having done over 300 appearances as “The Queen of Chicago/ Sarasota’s Legendary Lady”, Kate tells us that the two most-asked questions she gets are “Where did you get that great dress?” (Answer: On the Internet of course!) and “Can I have the recipe for Bertha’s most famous invention, the Palmer House Brownie?”

So here’s the brownie recipe. Kate says the secret’s the apricot glaze, so don’t skip that step.

BTW, you CAN get Bertha’s Brownies at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago… or, if you’re very lucky, your local group/ club/ HOA will invite Bertha to appear before your group and one of your members could be talked into baking these! (Save one for “Bertha” to take home for her hubby…)

Trading mullet for orange seeds: Is that any way to start a city?

The Whitakers: at the Historical Society of Sarasota County
Imagine Sarasota in 1842. Imagine being 21 years old and trading mullet from the Bay to start orange groves. Imagine courting, then marrying a girl from Manatee Village, a long hard ride from your homestead. Now imagine Bill and Mary Jane Whitaker having 11 children in the wilderness.

Your local guide, Lizzy Webb Guptill, portrayed by our very own Kate Holmes, will tell the story of her neighbors in this visual presentation of Sarasota’s Pioneer Family.

Sunday Afternoon Social, A light, entertaining program presented cafe-style in the historic Crocker Church (c.1901) Sunday, January 12, 2020 at 2 pm

Light Refreshments

Tickets at the Door, Seating Limited

Members $5, Future Members $10

Sarasota Earlye Musicke Consort

Earlye Musick Consort will perform at Historical Society of Saraspota County on March 22 2016

Tuesday – Concert in the Crocker Memorial Church
April 2, 2019 7pm

The members of the Sarasota Earlye Musicke Consort play music dating from the 14th century to the 21st century on recorders and viols. Programs are varied, with descriptions of the instruments and commentary about the music shared at each performance. The Consort typically presents three or four concerts in the spring. This one is at the Crocker Memorial Church. Membership in the consort is by invitation from the director, Charlotte Trautwein. The Consort practices weekly October-April in the Crocker.

This concert is open to the public and no reservations are required. A $5 donation is requested and appreciated.