Ringling Brothers Circus will take its final bow in May. The owner of the famed circus, which has toured for 146 years, told the Associated Press that it wasn’t any one thing that is forcing Ringling Brothers to hang up their top hat for the last time, but rather a multitude of things.
Ringling Brothers had long come under fire from animal rights activists for their use of elephants as part of their show. The circus was accused of abusing the animals and announced in 2015 that they would slowly begin the process of removing the elephants and would relocate them to their retirement park, according to the New York Times. At the time of their announcement, Ringling Brothers owned 43 elephants and said it cost an estimated $65,000 a year to support each one. Twenty-nine of those elephants were already retired.
Despite the addition of thrill-seeking acts, Ringling Brothers noticed a decline in their attendance after removing the elephants from the show. The combination of costs associated with running the circus and the lack of audience seems to have spelled the end for what had become an American institution.
Ringling Brothers Circus was founded in 1884 by five of the seven Ringling brothers. The brothers began their act two years earlier with juggling and skits, but eventually became a circus when they incorporated animals into their show. Starting with a bear and a trick horse, the famed circus eventually added elephants to the mix when they combined with Barnum and Bailey in 1907.
A statement from CEO Kenneth Feld on the Ringling Brothers website confirmed the closure of the iconic circus:
“After much evaluation and deliberation, my family and I have made the difficult business decision that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® will hold its final performances in May of this year. Ringling Bros. ticket sales have been declining, but following the transition of the elephants off the road, we saw an even more dramatic drop. This, coupled with high operating costs, made the circus an unsustainable business for the company.
“Nearly 50 years ago, my father founded our company with the acquisition of Ringling Bros. The circus and its people have continually been a source of inspiration and joy to my family and me, which is why this was such a tough business decision to make. The decision was even more difficult because of the amazing fans that have become part of our extended circus family over the years, and we are extremely grateful to the millions of families who have made Ringling Bros. part of their lives for generations. We know Ringling Bros. isn’t only our family business, but also your family tradition.
“Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Presents Circus XTREME will conclude its tour at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, R.I., on May 7, 2017, and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Presents Out Of This World will conclude its tour at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., on May 21, 2017. We hope you will come to celebrate this American icon for one last time before our tours conclude.
“Our company provides quality, live family entertainment, and we invite you to bring your family to one of our other events, including Marvel Universe LIVE!, Monster Jam, Monster Energy Supercross, AMSOIL Arenacross, Disney On Ice and Disney Live!, as well as future productions.
“Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey has served as inspiration for all of the live entertainment produced at Feld Entertainment. We learned from the circus, and applied those learnings to our other productions. Without Ringling Bros., we wouldn’t have the vibrant live entertainment company that we have today. Ringling Bros. will always be part of Feld Entertainment, and its spirit will live on in every production and project we do.”
Some of the more memorable acts to emerge from the Ringling Brothers Circus include the infamous animal trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams, who worked with various large cats and elephants, the human cannonball Mario Zacchini, and the flying Wallendas. Ringling Brothers was also known for their superb clown college, which produced more than 1,400 clowns over the course of several decades. Perhaps the most famous clown of all time, Emmett Kelly, did most of his tenure with the Ringling Brothers Circus.
Do you have a favorite Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus story you’d like to share? Let us know by commenting below.
[Featured Image by Chris O’Meara/AP Photo.]