Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Vincent J. Cannato

Second Advisor

Timothy Hacsi

Third Advisor

Roberta Wollons


Beyond the Big Top: The Legacy of John Ringling and the American Circus is a focused interpretation of the impact of the American circus post-Civil War through present day, most particularly that of circus impresario, corporate magnate, and philanthropist John Ringling, in what was once a quiet Florida fishing village named Sarasota. It is my observation that John Ringling, through moving the winter quarters of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey to Sarasota, investing in a sizable amount of real estate, and spearheading a campaign to bring a world-class art museum and school to the area, played a key role in shaping Florida tourism, diversity, expanding cultural awareness, and boosting the local economy. I have addressed the effects Ringling had on the region, as well as discuss how and why Ringling invested so heavily in Sarasota. The rise of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus will also be discussed, and how Ringling planned to make contributions that would live on long after he did. Although the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus shuttered its wagon doors for good in 2017, Ringling ensured that he utilized his proceeds from the show, as well as other ventures, to finance endeavors that have allowed his memory and intentions to live well on into the 21st century.