Janet M. Schrock, Ph.D., a docent at the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida, wrote to say her docents’ book club had read Rogues’ Gallery, and were concerned about a passage on page 54, that describes Ringling’s purchase of antiquities of questionable authenticity from the Luigi Palma di Cesnola collection at the Metropolitan Museum decades ago. I described that as “fitting.” Why, Schrock wrote, “is it fitting that a circus owner (and one of the richest men in America during the 1920’s) should purchase Metropolitan mistakes? Is this a prejudice against circus owners, Floridians or people who start museums in the South?”
I replied (oddly enough, en route to Florida for several talks about the book there): “I considered Cesnola’s reign at the Met, indeed his entire career, something of a circus in the colloquial use of that term, with him as a ringmaster, and only meant to refer to that — nothing else. Indeed, as a lover, as well as an author, of social history, I am familiar with Mr. Ringling’s career, his fine taste, and your museum through the great book Twilight of Splendor, and would never, ever, seek to impugn him or his accomplishments. Ditto the circus, which I attended annually as a child, and still sometimes visit when the opportunity presents itself.” I neglected to say that I like Florida and Floridians, too, so am glad the Ringling book club asked me to post this item, which gives me the chance to amend it.