Ringling Museum

June 27, 2014 – Sarasota

See also:  SPPI page Sarasota Ghosts
Prior SPIRITS investigation and SPPI investigation listed here.  


Reported phenomena via research:

Claimed Haunts [2] [12] [13]

John Ringling

  Throughout Ca d’Zan

Mable Ringling

  Many say they still see her spirit on the terrace Ca d’Zan
  People touring the building have claimed they felt a cold spot or a presence within the room when they were all alone at the mansion.
  Some people have claimed to see the shadowy figure of a woman in the rose garden that disappears into thin air. A woman’s figure can regularly be spotted in one of many of the balconies.


  Many people roaming the Circus Museum, which houses the largest miniature circus in the word, have seen another more popular spirit: the spirit of a circus priest who worked for the Ringlings in the 1920s.


  The story of Mary began when Keating Center at Ringling School or Art and Design was the former Bay Haven Hotel, built in 1925. Some say Mary, about 18 or 19 years old, was a prostitute who practiced her trade there. One night, she committed suicide by hanging herself with a fabric cord from the curtains in the stairwell between the second and third floors. Some believe she was raped and murdered. By 1931, the hotel was sold to John Ringling, who established an art school there. Students and faculty members have lived in the upper floors since then, and stories and reported sightings of Mary have continued.
  Some say that Mary was a prostitute in the New Bay Haven Hotel, which is now part of Ringling College and Design.
  In a 2004 Bradenton Herald Article, former student Christina Sicillano (room 12 of Keating Center) describes some of her encounters with the ghost. On one occasion, she saw Mary run across the room in a black night gown. Another time she was awakened by a bright light and the shattering of a vase, then a horrible scratching noise and a pale face just inches from her own staring at her. She always said, “Go to bed Mary,” and just like that, Mary would be gone.
  There have been numerous other reports about Mary knocking over furniture, scattering papers as well as unexplained footsteps and door knocks, and the stories continue.
  She has since been observed walking the corridors and swirling the paint brushes of art students.
  She has been reported as just staring down on the students walking back from late classes, sometimes smiling, and sometimes grimacing. She is seen wearing a cream-colored dress with ruffles on the armlets, sporting a short, dark “pixie” haircut. Others have reported this apparition as wearing a lavender-colored dress in the style of the “flappers” with only one foot wearing a small blue shoe and having a tight-fitting skull cap-hat common in the 1920’s. Some have even claimed to have seen this apparition as a skeletal-like figure wearing tattered clothing, and having long rotting hair with two dark eyes peering out. This is certainly a freighting image; yet the most horrific visual image of this sad spirit has been described as a pair of feet dangling from between the stairwell’s floors. This section is now completely sealed off to public use, and can only to be used as a fire escape, though students can gain access here.

Names Associated with the Circus [3]

P. T. Barnum was born July 5, 1810, in Danbury, Connecticut and died in 1891.

James A. Bailey was born and died

Six Ringling Brothers involved in circus:

Alfred Theodore Ringling (1861–1919), was a juggler. He had a son Richard Ringling. He also had a granddaughter Mable Ringling who married Richard Durant, an elephant trainer.

Albert Ringling (1852–1916). He divorced his wife in 1914 and died of Bright’s disease in Wisconsin.

Charles Edward Ringling (1863–1926).

John Nicholas Ringling (1866–1936), could sing and clown. John Ringling was born in McGregor, Iowa, on May, 31 1866 and died December 2, 1936, New York City, NY.

Otto Ringling (1858–1911). He died on April 2, 1911 at the home of his brother, John on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. They were in New York for a show at Madison Square Garden.

Henry Ringling (1869–1918)

Mable Burton Ringling was married to John Ringling 1905-1929. She was born March 4, 1875 and died of pneumonia on June 8, 1929. 

Emily Haag Buck (Ringling) was married to John Ringling 1930-1936 (when he passed). [4] [5]

Lillian Leitzel, “Queen of the Air,” first performer to demand own car; died from fall when on break from circus. Born in Breslau, Germany on January 2, 1892 and died 2:09am, Sunday, February 15th.

Mable Cummings, maid to Lillian Leitzel

Alfredo Codona, trapeze artist and “one true love” of Lillian Leitzel; couldn’t handle her passing and ultimately shot himself during the divorce proceedings from his next wife.  

Vera Bruce, aerialist, second wife (unhappy marriage) of Alfredo Codona

Merle Evans, music director for circus for more than 40 years; nicknames: “Toscanini of the Circus,” “Will Rogers with a horn”

Lou Jacobs, master clown for more than 60 years. He was a founding professor at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College®. Known as “King Of Clowns.” Jacobs was born Johann Ludwig Jacob in 1903 in Bremerhaven, Germany and died on Sunday, September 13, 1992 in Sarasota, Florida of heart failure. He was 89.

Emmett Kelly was born in Sedan, Kansas on December 9, 1898 and on March 28, 1979, opening day of The 109th Edition of The Greatest Show On Earth® at Madison Square Garden, 80-year-old Emmett Kelly suffered a heart attack on the lawn of his home in Sarasota, Florida and died.

Gunther Gebel-Williams forever changed the image of animal trainer – and because of Gunther, we have all learned more about the beauty, majesty and sheer splendor of the world’s most exotic creatures. He was born September 12, 1934, Świdnica, Poland and died: July 19, 2001, Venice, Florida.

Robert Dale Segee (1929-1997) confessed to setting the Hartford Circus Fire though later recanted; he was a circus worker who had a history of arsons. [9]

Dessi Espana, 32, died May 23, 2004. She was twirling on long chiffon scarves when the silky cloth gave way during Saturday’s performance in St. Paul, Minnesota, witnesses said. She fell thirty feet onto concrete. She died later that night. [10]

Sophie Hodge, former wife of the 14th Ringmaster was found dead from an overdose January 1963 in the St. Armands North Trail motel. [11]

List of Ringmasters (Blue=Living; green=Unconfirmed)

#38 Andre McClain (2013 – Present)

#37 David Shipman (2012 – Present)

#36 Brian Crawford Scott (2010-2012) 

#35 CHUCK WAGNER (2005 – 2008)

#34 TYRON McFARLAN (2005 – 2008

#33 KEVIN VENARDOS (2001 – 2005)

#32 MICHAEL JAMES McGOWAN (2000 – 2001


#30 JOHNATHAN LEE IVERSON (1999 – 2004, 2010 – present)

#29 ROBERT TULLY (1998)

#28 ERIC MICHAEL GILLETT (1987 – 1997)

#27 KRISTOPHER ANTEKEIER (1986 – 1987)

#26 JIM RAGONA (1983 – 1994, 1998 – 1999)

#25 DINNY McGUIRE (1982, 1983 – 1985)


#23 KIT HASKETT (1977 – 1982)

#22 BILL WITTER (1977

#21 TIM HOLST (1973, 1974 – 1976) (October 9, 1947 – April 16, 2009)

#20 BOB WELZ (1969 – 1973)

#19 GEORGE MICHEL (1959)

#18 DON FORBES (1958)

#17 HAROLD RONK (First singing ringmaster, 1957, 1960 – 1968, 1969 – 1972, 1974 – 1976, 1978 – 1980) (1921-August 2, 2006)


The following ringmasters are presumed deceased due to ages they would be:

#15 COUNT NICHOLAS (1951 – 1955) ( 1910-August 2001)

#14 DAVID MURPHY (1950) [11]

#13 HARRY THOMAS (1949)

#12 ARTHUR SPRINGER (1947 – 1948)

#11 JOHN AGEE (1916 – 1918)

#10 FRED BRADNA (1913 – 1918, 1919 – 1946)

#9 WILLIAM GORMAN (1910, 1911 – 1912)

#8 EDWARD SHIPP (1908 – 1910)

#7 FRANK MELVILLE (1903 – 1904)

#6 JOHN O’BRIEN (1895)

#5 WILLIAM DUCROW (1890 – 1891, 1896 – 1902, 1906 – 1907

#4 AL RINGLING (1884 – 1909, 1911 – 1915)

#3 R. H. DOCKRILL (1882 – 1889, 1892 – 1894, 1905)

#2 JAMES COOK (1879-1881)

#1 DAN CASTELLO (1871-1878)

“Haunted Campuses,” an hour-long show scheduled for 9 p.m. Oct. 24 [2004] on the Travel Channel, features ghost stories from Ringling and four other college campuses. A production crew interviewed students and filmed on the Ringling campus in March. [12] Have been unable to locate video online of this episode.

[1] http://www.ringling.org/ringling-estate-map

[2] http://www.thebradentontimes.com/news/2012/10/28/community/sunday_favorites_the_ghosts_of_ringling/#.U9vkwGOONuR

[3] http://www.ringling.com

[4] http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20140209/ARTICLE/140209660

[5] http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1787&dat=19371111&id=MIUcAAAAIBAJ&sjid=YWQEAAAAIBAJ&pg=5978,2945381

[6] http://www.simplysarasota.com/Sarasota-Spirits.html

[7] http://www.thesaundersblog.com/spooky-sarasota-%E2%80%93-top-10-sarasota-area-haunts/

[8] http://books.google.com/books?id=eLZWo-g0NCIC&pg=PA87&lpg=PA87&dq=who+is+the+ringling+circus+priest+who+haunts&source=bl&ots=NBQfOALn0B&sig=HoZlGIVsa8TxioMRw-uL8PLJXV8&hl=en&sa=X&ei=oO7bU5nuDY-0yASUqYFw&ved=0CCsQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=who%20is%20the%20ringling%20circus%20priest%20who%20haunts&f=false pgs. 85-89

[9] http://murderpedia.org/male.S/s/segee-robert-dale.htm

[10] http://lists.envirolink.org/pipermail/ar-news/Week-of-Mon-20040517/025243.html

[11] http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1798&dat=19630109&id=jgYdAAAAIBAJ&sjid=34sEAAAAIBAJ&pg=7096,964025

[12] http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/1238474/posts

[13] http://psiresearcher.wordpress.com/2011/10/28/the-ringling-school-of-art-and-design-and-a-ghost-named-mary/

Research by the SPIRITS of St. Petersburg (accessible to prior knowledge before investigation): 

Circus Museum

June 27, 2014:
Brandy:  I felt as if something were drawing me toward the animal cars in the second room of the old circus building and I felt quite warm walking into that room.  Nothing unusual  showed upon photographs.

​Donna:  I am still rooting around for other tragedies, but this particular fire has an entire website – professionally done – dedicated to its information. Personal stories, victims list… http://www.circusfire1944.com/

Ca’ D’ Zan

History:  (Tour guide, 2014):  John and Mable Ringling had a winter home in Florida.  They spent 13 winters in this home before finally building the Ca’D’ Zan (the house of Giovanni, or the house of John).  It took several years to build as Mable continued to change her mind on various parts of the project.  The original building opened by 1925 and cost $1.5 million to build.  After Mable died in 1929 — after only 4 years in the home — John remarried. The second marriage was not as happy as the first.  The house was Mable’s creation; the second wife never went into Mable’s bedroom, etc.  When John Ringling died in 1936, he was nearly bankrupt.  Florida’s land bust had claimed most of his fortune.  With no children to give the house to, they willed it to the state of Florida.  Litigation from family followed but eventually the estate was given to the state.  The house sat in disrepair until 1996 when a 6 year renovation project started at the cost of $15 million.  The Ringling still has a goal to raise money to fix the organ that is built into the house and to restore the pool to a  reflective fountain. 

Prior visit from the SPIRITS of St. Petersburg, word of mouth by Sarasota resident, 2000:
*The famed Black Marble room (possibly the recreational area on the 3rd floor) is reputed to be related to the Masons.  The entire building is alleged to have Masonic symbols; local residents distrustful of the Masonic and pagan influences accused the Ringlings of supernatural wrangling to get their fortunes.  

From “Ghost Stories of Sarasota:  The Heart of the Cultural Coast” (Kim Cool, Historic Venice Press, 2003)
*Employees report the sensation that John Ringling is still present on the property (Formal Dining room)
*The Ringlings are buried in a secret place, likely on the property (See:  Secret Garden)
*Reports that Mable’s spirit is still on location (Formal Dining room; her bedroom)
*Spirits of children (girls) in Mable’s room; initials J and M
*John’s manservant who continues to care for the house
*Spirit of a maid who continues to care for the house 
*Place memory or haunting in the Tap Room  (John’s bar; imported from a bar closed during Prohibition in St. Louis and transported to Florida).  The book states that the mediums used to investigate the property helped the ghosts cross over the night of the investigation.
*A gray cat in Mable’s room; the book says that experts agreed that Mable had a lot of animals, but did not know if one was a fluffy gray cat; when asked on the tour, the guide said that Mable had small dogs (Jack Russel terriers)  but she had no knowledge of a cat.
*Energy sensed in the recreation room on the 3rd floor; spirit of Gunther, an animal trainer who died 2 years prior to the investigation)
*Presence of Willy, a painter who had made art for the room
*Sensation of prior visitors in the guest room upstairs
*John Ringling’s second wife, Emily, resides in a side bedroom

SPIRITS visit, July 27. 2014:

Post from Karen West, SPIRITS member on first investigation in 2000:
We had a video EVP as well in Mable Ringling’s rose garden.  The voice in the Rose Garden was – Ah aren’t they beautiful!  Mable was the only person who tended the roses – she wouldn’t let anyone else do anything to her roses.

Visit, July 27, 2014: 
Brandy:  Nothing.  The group did stay behind to ask the tour guide if she had heard of any activity and she had not.  She had no unusual experiences there, though she noted that she was not there at night or during a full moon.

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