Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus close after 146 years

Katrina Soto
May 22, 2017

Led by a lively "lion" and "tiger" roaring in triumph, members of PETA, Long Island Orchestrating for Nature, and CompassionWorks International gathered outside the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Long Island, New York, to send the circus off the best way we knew how: with protest signs still held high and tissues in our hands to catch the tears of victory.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus took a final, bittersweet bow Sunday, staging its last three shows here after 146 years of entertaining American audiences with gravity-defying trapeze stunts, comically clumsy clowns and tamed tigers.

The company said it saw a rapid drop in ticket sales after it ended its use of live elephants in performances last May - following scrutiny from animal rights groups and local governments passing "anti-elephant" ordinances in response to those concerns. They said that forcing the animals to perform and transporting them around the country amounted to abuse.

"Circus world is not Ringling, Circus World is not going anywhere, we will be here", Dave Saloutos, the ringmaster at Circus World, said.

Until Sunday, the company's train was the primary residence for most of the performers, who hail from 13 different countries.

"This was her first and last time", spectator Stephanie Culff, 31, said of her baby daughter, Emily, who wore a new dress decorated with Dumbo the elephant on the top and circus-tent stripes on the skirt.

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Before Feld, there was Phineas Taylor Barnum's traveling show of animals and human oddities, and the five Ringling brothers' juggling act and skits in Wisconsin in the late 1800s.

"People are not really concerned with wildlife until they feel it and see it and enjoy it", he said, "and love it as much as I do - until they've seen it with their own eyes". While he did not perform during Ringling's final shows, he said that many former and retired performers are in attendance to pay respect to the iconic show. Ringling's parent company, Feld Entertainment, announced that they would live stream the event on their Facebook page for those wanting one last chance to watch.

So when Feld Entertainment executives delivered the news that the circus was shutting down completely, it landed hard.

Byrne said that while the circus was ending, PETA was concerned over where the animals may go next. If you look around the world at other circuses, they are much smaller and many of them have a permanent home. The Felds bought the circus back in 1982.

Jonathan Lee Iverson performs in the closing number on the final day of the Ringling Bros Barnum and Bailey Circus.

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