Sharks, Sand, and the Greatest Show on Earth

Venice FL Feb 2019
Celia, David, Ann, and Allan

We were excited to visit some friends who live in Venice, FL and get to do some sightseeing in the area. Venice was named after the Italian city. This Florida city is an “island” city on the Gulf of Mexico and to access it you must cross over multiple bridges. The Venice/Sarasota area is a popular summer destination for obvious reasons: Sun, Sand, and Sharks Teeth? Yes, Venice is known as the Shark Tooth Capital of the World, with folks coming from far and wide to scoop up sand and to find the ancient teeth that lurk in the local waters.

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The collectors gather along the coastline with little mesh sand scoops, known locally as Florida “snow shovels” to hunt for shark teeth. The long continental shelf provides Venice with its dental bounty that resides along the coast. I was surprised at just how many folks hailing from all parts of the U.S. were in the hunt. There is even a Shark Tooth Festival in Venice. This year it begins on April 12th.

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The coastline is beautiful and is accented by the long public pier that also hosts the popular Sharkys Restaurant.

The local public works has provided extensive walkways, beach access, and picnic areas for the beachcombers to enjoy.

Our friend, Allan, is a wonderful photographer and we went to shoot some photos at a local antique car dealer. My biggest surprise was to be introduced to BMW Isletta which I had never heard of or seen before. This is the 1957 model and you enter the car by opening up the front!

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The highlight of the trip was to visit the John and Mable Ringling Museum complex overlooking the Sarasota Bay. With the wealth that they had amassed, the Ringlings built a mansion facing the bay and collected baroque art for their museum. There are also gardens, circus displays, and a massive miniature circus diorama.

We patiently waited with the 200 plus people in line for the 1:00 pm tour of the main house called the Ca’ d’Zan meaning the “House of John”. We soon realized that this was a first-floor only self-guided tour and that the docent led tours were long sold out. Regardless, the winter home is amazing and well worth the visit. Mable Ringling designed a showplace that hosted concerts and parties overlooking the beautiful bay. Unfortunately, she was only able to spend three winters in her creation.

In addition to the 36,000 square foot, 56 room residence, Mable Ringling also had an extensive garden with numerous statues, flowers, and exotic trees.

Our friends recommended that we visit the circus diorama that showcases the day in the life of the circus. Local volunteers have spent decades crafting the circus elements and people down to the minute detail of workers eating corn on the cob before the nightly show. When we think of the circus we think of the “big tent” but the scene shows countless tents for repairs, feeding the performers and workers, side-show areas, dressing areas, blacksmiths, etc. All the tents had to be assembled and then disassembled to travel by train to the next town after the show.

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We also chatted with one of the volunteers who has worked for decades on creating the miniatures for the display.

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If nothing else, you now understand the tremendous effort that hundreds of people undertook to produce the “Greatest Show on Earth.”

The train car that the Ringling family utilized as they traveled is also on display.

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There was so much to see and do that we ran out of time and did not go to the art museum that is now a part of the Florida State University. With over 28,000 works you would need an abundance of time to visit. As with so many places we go, it just encourages us to want to visit again.

The Venice area became the winter home for the circus and it has left a lasting imprint on the community. We drove across the Circus Bridge and also saw people practicing at the outdoor local trapeze school.

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Our friends kept telling us that this area is one of the best in Florida and no doubt we really enjoyed the beauty of the water and the beaches. We will be back, maybe trying our luck with one of those Florida snow shovels.

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