Cain and Abel. Romulus and Remus. The Mountain and the Hound. History is filled with many violent rivalries between brothers, so why should Sarasota’s most famous sibling rivalry stay free of fratricide?  The youngest two Ringling brothers each left indelible marks upon Sarasota, but armed only with their achievements and legacies, who will be victorious in the an SRQ Deathmatch for the ages between John and Charles Ringling? 


ILLUSTRATION BY JOEL STRALNIC

Circus Act

JOHN RINGLING The youngest of the Baraboo Brothers, John started his circus career as a clown, but quickly moved into a logistics role, helping to book acts while running the wagon routes, and ultimately planning the circus train trips for the operation.   CHARLES RINGLING A lifelong musician, Charles performed with the original Baraboo Brothers show, and eventually rose to running productions for the Ringling Bros. Circus. He headed the company when it merged with Barnum & Bailey Circus to become the largest live entertainment operation in the world. And with wife Edith, he played a major role in running the show until his death. “Mr. Charlie” also won the hearts of performers by helping with their personal finances. WINNER: CHARLES 


Sheer Endurance

JOHN The only one of the five famed Ringling Brothers (as well as three less famous siblings) to live to age 70, John Ringling outlived all his brothers, including the one living next door.  CHARLES  Charles lived until age 63, dying one day shy of a decade before younger brother John.  WINNER: JOHN

 

Vision for Sarasota

JOHN John purchased enormous amounts of island real estate, imagining a Ritz-Carlton and expansive waterfront development on Longboat Key. But most of that would fail to come to fruition in his lifetime. Arvida ultimately developed Bird Key in the 1960s, 34 years after his death. CHARLES  Meanwhile, Charles invested heavily in what would become Downtown Sarasota. He built the 11-story Sarasota Terrace Hotel and founded Ringling Bank and Trust Company. The Charles Ringling Building remains one of the oldest standing structures downtown.  WINNER: CHARLES

 

Lobbing Landmarks

JOHN The Ca’ d’Zan, literally House of John in Italian, serves as the ultimate exhibit at The Ringling, drawing visitors from around the world to see the lavish mansion and the circus museum also housed at the Sarasota estate of John and Mable Ringling. Completed in 1926 for a then-impressive $1.5 million, the Spanish-style home provided a venue to entertain Will Rogers and New York society in the Roaring ‘20s. More recently, the residence provided the setting for movies like Great Expectations.   CHARLES  College Hall, once the expansive $800,000 mansion for Charles Ringling, today houses classrooms and faculty offices for New College of Florida. It’s also become a popular place to host waterfront weddings. WINNER: JOHN

 

Strongest Street Signs

JOHN  The original John Ringling Causeway was described as one of the greatest engineering accomplishments of the South in the 1920s, and a newer bridge built in 2003 has become the symbol of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce. CHARLES  Ringling Boulevard, named for the downtown visionary, connects Nancy’s Bar-B-Q to the parking garage beside the courthouse.  WINNER: JOHN

 

Family Matters

JOHN  While all signs point to a strong marriage between John and first wife Mable, John’s great love died at 54 of Addison’s disease and the couple never had children. A second marriage to Emily Haag Buck a year later ended up in divorce and John’s financial ruin. And, of course, a disagreement with John Ringling North and Charles’ widow, Edith, contributed to his ouster from the circus. CHARLES  While Charles died shortly after the completion of his Sarasota mansion, wife Edith and daughter Hester continued to live in Sarasota for decades, with Edith also running business affairs. And son Robert Ringling would eventually take over day-to-day business operations of the circus from John Ringling North.   WINNER: CHARLES

 

Educational Edge

JOHN  While he lacked the financing to follow through alone, John Ringling touted the idea of an art school at his estate. He ended up working with Florida Southern College founder Ludd Spivey to found what would eventually become known as Ringling College of Art and Design. Additionally, Florida State University today runs a satellite program as the Asolo Conservatory on the old Ringling estate. CHARLES  Decades after his death, Charles Ringling’s Sarasota estate would become home to New College of Florida, first a private institution and now the honors college within Florida’s State University System. But that would happen in the 1960s, decades after Charles’ death.  WINNER: JOHN 


Deathmatch Winner:  John Ringling