After 146 years, the curtain is coming down on ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’. The owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced that the show will close forever in May. Factors, include declining attendance, high operating costs, changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups. The show has been a staple of American family entertainment since the 1800. Ringling Bros. has two touring circuses and will perform 30 shows between now and May. Major stops include Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston and Brooklyn. The final shows will be in Providence, Rhode Island, on May 7 and in Uniondale, New York, at the Nassau County Coliseum on May 21.
Phineas Taylor Barnum made a traveling spectacle of animals and human oddities popular, while the five Ringling brothers performed juggling acts and skits from their home base in Wisconsin. When they merged the circus was born. Movies, television, video games and the internet captured young minds and the circus lost its appeal. ‘The competitor in many ways is time, a throwbacks to another era,” said Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment. The Feld family bought the Ringling circus in 1967. The show was just under 3 hours then. Today, the show is 2 hours and 7 minutes, with the longest segment tiger act at 12 minutes. ‘Try getting a 3- or 4-year-old today to sit for 12 minutes,’ he said.
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. In 2014, Feld Entertainment won $25.2 million in settlements from groups including the Humane Society of the United States, ending a 14-year fight over allegations that circus employees mistreated elephants.