The Ringling Bros. ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ Is Closing After 146 Years
After nearly a century and a half of high-flying acrobatics, clowns on stilts, and exotic elephant acts, the Ringling Bros. circus announced its intention to close in May of this year.
The circus was a beloved part of childhood to many kids in the U.S. for decades, though its amusements were not without controversy.
Crowds waned over the past several decades as tastes in entertainment changed and activist groups alleged cruelty against animals used in the show. Some counties and cities banned the use of elephants for entertainment, forcing the circus to announce in March 2015 that they would phase out their traveling elephants and allow them to retire.
The final shows set to take place in the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Long Island in May are already sold out, according to the Associated Press, and resale tickets are going for up to $2,000 per seat.
“We tried all these different things to see what would work, and supported it with a lot of funding as well, and we weren't successful in finding the solution,” said Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of the company that owns the circus, told AP.
Before the show closes, take a look back at some of the moments of whimsy and joy of the Ringling Bros. circus over the past century.
An animal trainer works with leopards, a lioness, and a black panther in the 1940s.
President and director of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus John Ringling North (left) stands nearby during a rehearsal for Circus in Sarasota, Florida in 1949.
Ringling Bros. circus performs under the big top tent.
Acrobats and performers take a break in Sarasota, Florida.
Spectators look on during the high wire act in the Ringling Bros. circus at Madison Square Garden, New York City in 1953.
The circus came to Madison Square Garden in 1953.
Performers rehearse with the circus' signature elephants in in Sarasota, Florida in 1949.
The show has been a staple of U.S. entertainment since the mid-19th century.
Animal rights activists have lobbied against the Ringling Bros. elephant act for decades, citing animal cruelty, including the use of bull-hooks.
Aerialist Miss Lola practiced on a tightrope as the performers children looked on in 1949.
"The competitor in many ways is time," current owner Kenneth Feld told Associated Press of the dwindling crowds.
Tamer Evelyn Currie, of the Ringling Brothers Circus, is pictured performing her act in 1962.
The Christiani family is pictured practicing their bareback riding act for Ringling Bros. circus performance in Madison Square Garden in 1941.
A group of circus girls take a ride during rehearsal in 1949.
Actress Esther Williams climbs atop an elephant for a charity show to benefit St. John's Hospital in Hollywood,
Performer Carmen Miranda took part in the 1949 benefit for St. John's hospital in Sarasota, Florida.