Circus Ring of Fame

Circus Ring of Fame - St. Armands Circle
Circus Ring of Fame - St. Armands Circle

Ring of Fame Honors Circus Greats and Celebrates Sarasota History

In addition to its world-renowned shopping, dining, and beaches, modern St. Armands Circle is home to the Circus Ring of Fame

One century ago, the circus reigned supreme as the pinnacle of popular entertainment in the United States. Beginning in the 1880s and continuing well into the post-war midcentury, exquisite, caravans of colorful wagons carried "The Greatest Show on Earth" from coast-to-coast. Across the nation, the circus captured the hearts and imaginations of Americans in every town where it pitched its "Big Top" tent.

In 1927, circus magnate, John Ringling, relocated the Ringling Barnum & Bailey Circus' winter headquarters from blizzard-prone Baraboo, Wisconsin to a quaint Florida fishing village nestled on the Gulf of Mexico. With average winter temps hovering between the mid-50's and mid-70's degrees Fahrenheit, it’s no surprise Ringling was inspired to "hitch his wagon" in sunshine-soaked Sarasota. Ringling also purchased the island of St. Armands Key in 1917, envisioning a chic, circular shopping and leisure district — a vision that is realized today.

In addition to its world-renowned shopping, dining, and beaches, modern St. Armands Circle is home to the Circus Ring of Fame — an iconic park established in 1987 that celebrates circus greats and Sarasota's vibrant history. New inductees are commemorated annually with the addition of bronze circus-wagon wheels — the circus equivalent to a Hollywood Star — along with a biographical plaque to accompany each wheel.

"Over the years the Ring of Fame has become something that is very special to the circus community," says Ring of Fame President, Brian Liddicoat. He notes that the 135 wheels (and counting) that circle St. Armands' Circus Ring of Fame draw visitors, internationally.

Ring of Fame Spotlights on Sarasota Locals and Leading Ladies in 2019 Induction

The Ring of Fame recognizes circus greats all over the world, but Liddicoat says that all four of this year's inductees share a unique commonality: each calls Sarasota home. The 2019 induction ceremony is also characterized, he says, by a strong showing of female inductees.

Teeter-totter acrobat Lisa Hernandez of the Hernandez Troupe, the world's senior-most daredevil, Carla Wallenda, and aerialist Rosie Rode of the Rodos Troupe are among the Ring of Fame 2019 inductees accepting the honor on their own behalf or that of their troupe. Arlene Morris, widow of influential circus producer and circus industry graphic designer, Ron Morris, will accept this year's fourth induction honor on her late husband's behalf.

"We're proud to announce that our Mistress of ceremonies this year is Kay Rosaire, owner and operator of Big Cat Habitat. With four women accepting the awards, we thought it only appropriate that we should have a woman running the show as our Mistress of Ceremonies in 2019," says Liddicoat.

Get to Know the 32nd Annual Circus Ring of Fame Inductees

The Hernandez Troupe: Frequently billed as the "bouncing, twisting titans of teeterboard," Lisa and Manuel Hernandez met while performing with another circus troupe. The springboard aerialists fell in love and settled in Sarasota, where they started a family. The Hernandez Troupe — an act that grew to nine members as the talented family grew — performed with the Ringling Barnum & Bailey Circus from 1988-1992. Although no longer performing as a troupe, members of the Hernandez family continue to teach, produce, and write books about the circus industry.

Ron Morris: Although most of his work took place in the shadows the Big Top spotlight, Ron Morris' contributions to the circus span a lifetime. Over the course of decades, Morris was a circus producer, concessionaire, publicist, graphics printer, and "a friend to everyone in the business," says Liddicoat. In Sarasota, Morris established, and for 30 years operated, Spotlight Graphics — an industry leader in circus posters, programs, and ticket printing. He also served as the president of Showfolks of Sarasota, and sat on the Circus Ring of Fame board before his passing in March, 2018.

The Rodos Troupe and Palace Duo: In the 1960s, Rosie and Hans Rode of the Rodos Troupe formed the Palace Duo. Best known for their breathtaking aerial cradle act, the Palace Duo performed with the Ringling Barnum & Bailey Circus before retiring in 1972 and founding the Old Heidelberg Castle, a restaurant and tourist attraction that operated for more than two decades near downtown Sarasota. The Heidelberg Castle is remembered fondly for its thrilling blend of kitsch and gnosh: Bavarian-style food and beer, lederhosen-clad staff, live polka, and acrobatic acts.

Carla Wallenda: Daughter of the famous Flying Wallenda patriarch, Karl Wallenda, Carla is among the original members of Flying Wallenda daredevil dynasty. She distinguished herself by earning the world title for "senior-most daredevil" in 2017 when, at 81 years-old, she performed her sway pole act on Steve Harvey's "Little Big Shots: Forever Young." Claiming a wagon wheel of her own at age 83, Carla joins the Flying Wallenda clan in a well-earned place of honor on the Ring of Fame.