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A Ringling secret remains in Baraboo

The historic Al Ringling Mansion in Baraboo is undergoing work to turn its ballroom into a brewpub offering a beer made from a recipe discovered hidden away under the mansion’s flooring. (John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

The historic Al Ringling Mansion in Baraboo is undergoing work to turn its ballroom into a brewpub offering a beer made from a recipe discovered hidden away under the mansion’s flooring. (John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

By BARRY ADAMS
Wisconsin State Journal

BARABOO, Wis. (AP) — Joe Colossa is eager to show off the Al. Ringling Mansion.

Its four floors and 40 rooms have seven fireplaces, 14 chandeliers and 67 original stained-glass windows.

A cabinet holds a full tea and china set from the Ringlings, cue sticks used by the famed circus family to play snooker still hang in the billiard room, and furniture from Ringling homes around the country are on display. There’s a roll-top desk used by Charles Ringling, Alf T. Ringling’s dining-room table and an old sewing box that was turned into a ticket box when Al., as a child, decided to set up his own circus with a few of his brothers.

One of the most prized items is a chair that in the middle 1800s was used by Salome Ringling to nurse her seven sons, five of whom went on to own and operate the gold standard of circuses.

“The Ringling family just keeps sending us stuff,” said Colossa. “It’s really great.”

The property, scheduled to open next spring, will have a bed-and-breakfast, a museum and archive dedicated to the Ringling family, and will be open for tours. But the 6,000-square-foot ballroom that was added to the back of the house in 1948 is being transformed into a brew pub.

Those plans came about after flooring was removed from an upstairs closet in 2014, revealing a wooden box under subflooring and between joists. Inside it, Colossa found old photographs and letters, and, underneath everything, a folded piece of paper containing a recipe. Most of it was typed on a single piece of paper.

Colossa, who thought the recipe was for some type of food, actually put it all aside until a year later when he was looking for items to display in the billiard room. He went back to the box and, with a closer look, recognized that the recipe was for a beer and that the handwriting on the bottom of the piece of paper was that of Al. Ringling.

“It’s such a unique recipe because it’s not traditional beer ingredients,” Colossa said. “We’re really, really careful with it.”

To aid in the construction of the brew pub, the city of Baraboo has received a $54,700 Community Development Investment Grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

“I applaud the city of Baraboo and owners for working together on a project that will honor the historic significance of the site while creating future opportunities for development,” said Missy Hughes, WEDC secretary and CEO.

 A circus poster is on display on Nov. 15 at the Al Ringling Mansion in Baraboo. (John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

A circus poster is on display on Nov. 15 at the Al Ringling Mansion in Baraboo. (John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

The brewery project is being led by Jon Bare, who grew up in Portage, worked for a time at Wisconsin Dells Brewing Co. and helped start a brew pub in Boston. He returned to Wisconsin a few years ago and, until he learned of the Ringling project, had thoughts of opening a brew pub in Baraboo in an old house.

Bare hesitates to call the beer from the Ringling recipe an ale, but said it does use an ale-style yeast, which is all he would reveal.

“It’s very similar to an ale, but it’s a very strange style of beer,” Bare said. “It’s very light. The perfect porch pounder. It’s going to be the perfect beer for people who come to our beer garden after a day of hiking at Devil’s Lake. It’s light and sweet.”

Ringling and his wife, Lou, built the Romanesque Revival, red-stone mansion for $100,000, and it later became the home of Ida Ringling North, Ringling’s only sister. The Ringling family sold the property in 1936 to the local Elks Lodge, and, 12 years later, the fraternal organization added a 300-person ballroom with a stage. Also installed, below the ballroom, was a six-lane bowling alley. The mansion was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

After the Colossas and Horowitz purchased the property, they continued to rent out the ballroom for weddings and special events, and the Elks continued to use the bowling alley for leagues. But now the ballroom is being turned into a German beer hall and brewery. A seven-barrel brew house and fermentation tanks take up a spot once occupied by a stage, while on the opposite end of the room a platform is being constructed to hold a Savin Rock Gavioli self-playing organ from 1906. The beer hall’s 40-foot-long bar top and the floor of the elevated mezzanine were constructed from the maple and pine used in the bowling lanes.

The former bowling alley space is being turned into museum space, which will include a miniature circus display with 63,000 pieces, and the original basement ballroom of the 1905 mansion is being gutted to house an archive. The four upstairs bedrooms have been completed and will allow guests to sleep in the bedrooms of Al. and Lou Ringling, who had their own rooms. Lou’s has her original bedroom set.

“When we bought this place, it was in very poor condition,” said Colossa, a Connecticut native. “The Elks did the best they could, but they didn’t have the money. We knew what we were getting into.”

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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