Exhibit to feature McGregor era Ringling family artifacts

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

See artifacts from the family that brought everyone “The Greatest Show on Earth” at The Left Bank Shop and Gallery’s latest special exhibit, “The Greatest Show in Town.”

The exhibit will feature several items that are believed to have been part of the Ringling family’s household while they lived in McGregor from 1860 to 1872. Four of the brothers—Alfred, Charles, John and Henry—were born in McGregor during that time.

“The coolest item is the little ticket box their dad made for them,” said Joe Colossa, proprietor of the Al Ringling Mansion, in Baraboo, Wis.

The boys used the ticket box to collect fares from their childhood shows held in McGregor. Its authenticity has been confirmed by the letter “R” on the latch pins, a mark the brothers’ father, August, used to identify his work. At the first events held in McGregor, the boys charged 10 pins, then increased the price to attend a show to one cent, and eventually charged five cents.

Other artifacts include a cradle in which all eight Ringling children were believed to have slept, a rocking horse, bed, Martha Washington nursing chair, high chair, tray and pieces of Ringling china. 

One item, a telescope, was not in the Ringlings’ McGregor household, but has a unique story, nonetheless. It belonged to the brothers’ maternal great-grandfather, who fought at the battle of Waterloo in 1815, under Napoleon Bonaparte. Made in France by a company known as A. Bardou Paris, the telescope is even believed to have been used by Napoleon.

All the artifacts are on display courtesy of the Ringling family and the Al Ringing Mansion.

“None of these things have been back here since the family was in McGregor,” Colossa shared.

Colossa spoke about the Ringling family at the McGregor Historical Museum’s fall event last November. At the time, he expressed interest in bringing some artifacts to the community for display. 

With the space to house such an exhibit at The Left Bank Shop and Gallery, it was an opportunity that couldn’t be passed up, said Bonnie Pruett, with the McGregor-Marquette Center for the Arts.

Around this time last year, The Left Bank hosted an exhibit featuring the work of well-known McGregor photographer Margery Goergen. 

“The community was really involved and connected with it,” Pruett said.

The art center board hopes the Ringling exhibit will have the same effect.

“This is a display that can really be for the community of McGregor,” Pruett noted.

“The Greatest Show in Town” will open on Friday, Nov. 10, with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Colossa will speak at 5:30 p.m.

The exhibit will be on display at The Left Bank, in downtown McGregor, through Dec. 19.

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