Ringling Bros. shuts down the big top after 146 years

Posted May 23, 2017

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 final performance is at the Nassau County Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) east of New York City.

Nock, who has a signature shock of two-foot-tall blond hair, performed with the Ringling circus from 2000-2008, spoke Sunday just before the second-to-last ever circus show.

This weekend was the final chance for fans to see the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. His parents met at the Ringling circus in 1954 and said the show inspired generations of performers. Before Sunday night's performance began, Feld himself addressed the crowd, with family members by his side, telling circusgoers, "From the bottom of our hearts we want to say thank you all very much, and please enjoy and celebrate the Greatest Show on Earth one last time". In May 2016, the company removed elephants from its shows, but ticket sales continued to decline.

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In many locations it was often a school holiday, said LaVahn Hoh, a retired University of Virginia drama professor who long taught the nation's only course on circus history, a topic he also lectured on at Ringling's Clown College.

After more than 100 years in operation, CEO Kenneth Feld chose to close down the circus, citing a dramatic dip in ticket sales.

When the lights go down, all that will be left will be the memories of the circus and the impact it made on the American consciousness. He drove from his home in CT for the final show at 7pm on Sunday, the last of about 350 Ringling performances he has attended.

Many in the audience had tears in their eyes as they sang, and performers on the show floor hugged. But these days, a spokesman said, the show is something on people's bucket lists - a spectacle to see once but not every year.

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The final three shows are Sunday in Uniondale, New York, outside of New York City. "PETA is urging everyone to build on this momentum by never buying a ticket to any circus or amusement park that still uses live animals".

However, Feld also won two other animal-maltreatment suits, and in the longest-running piece of litigation, still ongoing after 14 years, the ASPCA had to pay the circus $25 million to settle a racketeering counterclaim after it was alleged the organization had paid a former Ringling elephant trainer to be a plaintiff.

What killed Ringling Brothers Circus was the changing economics of the business.

And so tonight, sometime after 9 p.m., the Greatest Show on Earth will be no more.

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