Entertainment ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ to close forever

‘Greatest Show on Earth’ to close forever

Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey circus
Members of the BMX team from the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus are among those soon to be out of a job. Photo: EPA/Cristobal Herrera
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After 146 years, the curtain is coming down on The Greatest Show on Earth, with the owner of the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus announcing the Big Top will close forever in May.

The iconic American spectacle was felled by a variety of factors, company executives say.

Clowns Ringling circus
The curtain is falling on The Greatest Show on Earth. Photo: Timothy A Clary via ABC.

Declining attendance combined with high operating costs, along with changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups all contributed to its demise.

“There isn’t any one thing,” said Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment.

“This has been a very difficult decision for me and for the entire family.”

The company broke the news to circus employees on Saturday night after shows in Orlando and Miami.

Ringling Bros has two touring circuses this season and will perform 30 shows between now and May, with the final shows in Providence, Rhode Island, on May 7 and in Uniondale, New York, at the Nassau County Coliseum on May 21.

The circus, with its exotic animals, flashy costumes and death-defying acrobats, has been a staple of entertainment in the United States since the mid-1800s.

Ringling Barnum Bailey circus elephants
Protests against the use of animals including elephants have contributed towards the downfall of circuses. Photo: AP/Bill Sikes

Phineas Taylor Barnum made a travelling spectacle of animals and human oddities popular, while the five Ringling brothers performed juggling acts and skits from their home base in Wisconsin.

Eventually, they merged and the modern circus was born.

The sprawling troupes travelled around America by train, wowing audiences with the sheer scale of entertainment and exotic animals.

By mid-century, the circus was routine, wholesome family entertainment, but as the 20th century went on, kids became less and less enthralled, with movies television, video games and the internet capturing young minds.

The Feld family bought the Ringling circus in 1967.

Ringling circus clowns
Sending in the clowns hasn’t been enough to save the circus. Photo: Timothy A Clary via ABC

Feld and his daughter Juliette Feld, who is the company’s chief operating officer, acknowledged another reality that led to the closing, and it was the one thing that initially drew millions to the show: the animals.

Ringling has been targeted by activists who say forcing animals to perform is cruel and unnecessary.

In May of 2016, after a long and costly legal battle, the company removed the elephants from the shows and sent the animals to live on a conservation farm in Central Florida.

The animals had been the symbol of the circus since Barnum brought an Asian elephant named Jumbo to America in 1882.

The Felds say their existing animals – lions, tigers, camels, donkeys, alpacas, kangaroos and llamas – will go to suitable homes.

Animal rights supporters have greeted the news with joy.

The Feld family hasn’t decided what it will do with the enormous warehouse filled with circus costumes and props, but Mr Feld says it will continue to work with the Circus Museum at The Ringling in Sarasota which holds memorabilia dating to the 1800s.

– Tamara Lush 

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