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Tax Dollars Commemorate Corporate Excess


The decades before and after the dawn of the 20th century were the golden age of US railroading. The biggest of corporate bigshots traveled in luxurious personal railcars, the equivalent of today’s corporate jets.

Now the corporate jet is popularly held as an object of scorn. Yet, the Federal government granted $400,000 toward restoring one example of last century’s wealth at work:

In the Ringling's Circus Museum building in Sarasota, one must view John and Mable Ringling's railcar, the Wisconsin, from the outside -- because it's still being worked on. During my visit, conservation technician David Piurek was reapplying 23.5-karat gold leaf to the stenciling in the staterooms.

The Ringlings used the Wisconsin from 1905 to 1916; after a varied history it ended up as a fishing lodge in Morehead City, N.C. Tracked down by circus enthusiast Howard Tibbals in 1985, it was acquired by the North Carolina Transportation Museum, which in turn donated it to the Ringling in 2003. It's now part of a 66-acre site that in addition to the Circus Museum also includes Mr. and Mrs. Ringling's art collection and their Venetian fantasy of a mansion, the Cà d'Zan, whose terrace steps descend into Sarasota Bay.