After nearly a century and a half, the Greatest Show on Earth is closing its doors, the Associated Press reports. Kenneth Feld, the chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, which purchased the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1967, told the AP that declining attendance and revenues were to blame, as were high-profile battles with animal-rights activists over the circus’ treatment of animal attractions, particularly elephants.
In a letter on the company website, Feld wrote that ticket sales declined dramatically after the company made the decision to retire its elephants in 2015. The ex-circus elephants were sent to an elephant conservation center in Florida after years of pressure from activists; this decision lost them the support of at least one high-profile jerk:
Feld also blamed declining attention spans, noting that the show’s longest act—a 12-minute tiger routine—was a tough sell to modern children. Ringling Bros. currently has two circuses on tour, “Out of This World” and “Circus Extreme,” which will perform in 30 more locations between now and May. West Coasters will never get the chance to see the Greatest Show on Earth again, but “Out of this World” will be in Brooklyn from Feb. 23 to March 3 and the D.C. area (Richmond; Washington, D.C.; Fairfax; and Baltimore) between March 23 and April 30.
The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was created in 1919 when the Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows merged with Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth. Its roots go back to the 1870 creation of “P.T. Barnum’s Great Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, & Hippodrome.” Here’s what you could have seen there in the spring of 1871, according to an ad in the New York Times (eccentric line-breaks and capitalization preserved):
P.T. BARNUM’S GREAT TRAVEL-
ING MUSEUM, MENAGERIE, CARAVAN
and HIPPODROME, the largest and most attractive
EXHIBITIONS ON EARTH
with its marvelous aggregation of
LIVING RARE WILD BEASTS; its
FIVE HUNDRED MEN, HORSES, CAMELS,
ELEPHANTS, DROMEDARIES, GNOOS,
One hundred thousand CURIOSITIES. The GREAT
COLISEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY AND
ART, combined, although in a separate tent, with
DAN CASTELLO’S MAMMOTH CIRCUS,
All of which will be exhibited in
TWO COLOSSAL TENTS,
FOR ONE SINGLE PRICE OF ADMISSION,
will open in Brooklyn, on Fulton-av., near Hoyt-st.
MONDAY NIGHT, APRIL 10.
Most of the circus’ 500 employees will be out of work; the remaining circus animals will be given to “suitable homes,” according to the AP. No word yet as to the fate of the company’s various Wheels of Death.