After 146 years, and have entertained generations of Americans, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus gave its last performance Sunday night.
Cast and crew gathered under the big top, and with dozens of retirees and former circus performers in the audience, Ringmaster, Jonathan Lee Iverson led a sing-along of “Auld Lang Syne.”
Sunday night 7 pm performance was the last of the three final shows at the Nassau County Coliseum in Uniondale, N. Y., about 30 miles east of New York City.
Ringling’s parent company Feld Entertainment, announced in January it would be closing the show, citing declining attendance and high operating costs. The circus had also fought a battle with animal rights activists, who had argued that forcing the animals to carry and transport about the country amounted to abuse. The company removed its famous elephants of her shows in May 2016, but the ticket sales continued to decline.
In the end, Feld executives said that they knew that the circus could not compete with iPhones, internet, video games and massively branded and carefully marketed characters. Their other productions — Frozen on the Ice, Marvel Live, Supercross, Monster Trucks, Disney on Ice — resonate better with the younger generations.
“We all have to change,” Kenneth Feld told the Associated Press for the last show. “But there is a love for the circus that will never die. Our family has half a century of life to something that would have been 50 years ago.”
“The 146 years of tradition, is older than the American baseball,” said David Gregg, a clown from Hollywood, Florida. “This was one of the last nomadic tribes active in the whole country.”
Once a mainstay of entertainment in the small towns and large cities across the country, Ringling had two touring circuses this season, one of which ended its run earlier this month in Providence, R. I. That show was the more traditional three-ring circus, while the show concluded this weekend, is a narrative storyline. The so-called “not of This World,” was set in the futuristic universe, with Iverson say in his signature baritone.
Sunday night is the finale, broadcast around the world on Facebook and YouTube, featured an extravaganza of big cats, motorcycle, stunts, clowns performing death-defying tricks, skaters and Mongolian contortionists — and that was only the first half. The second half brought more aerialists, hoop divers, basketball players in unis, and a law that the circus staff calls “The Fuzzies,” with dogs, pigs, llamas and goats.
Then came the end, the round of applause, thank-yous, and the bittersweet sing-along.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please keep the circus life in you,” Iverson said.
And shortly before 9:30 pm, The Greatest Show on Earth no more.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.