Ringling Bros. Circus Comes to an End

After 146 years, the Greatest Show on Earth announced they will be closing their doors for good this year.
Ringling Bros. circus elephants

Feld Entertainment, the company that owns Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, announced Saturday that after 146 years…The Greatest Show on Earth is coming to an end.

“After much evaluation and deliberation,” a message from Kenneth Feld on the Ringling Bros. website reads,”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.”

The circus has been under fire for some time now by animal rights groups, who were ultimately responsible for pounding the final nails in the circus coffin (which is no doubt full of clowns) and bringing an end to a long and well-loved tradition. PETA was quick to share news of “the end of the saddest show on earth” with a tweet that read “After 36 years of protests, #RinglingBros Circus will shut down in May. Thank you to all who spoke out!”

In a statement, Humane Society of the United States president Wayne Pacelle said, “It’s just not acceptable any longer to cart wild animals from city to city and have them perform silly yet coercive stunts. I know this is bittersweet for the Feld family, but I applaud their decision to move away from an institution grounded on inherently inhumane wild animal acts.”

The Ringling brothers
The Ringling brothers

Both the Ringling Bros. Circus and PT Barnum‘s Great Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Hippodrome got their start in Wisconsin, where their winter headquarters is now the home of the Circus World Museum in Baraboo. The five Ringling brothers toured around the state with juggling and variety shows, while P.T. Barnum and James A. Bailey enchanted audiences around the world with famous spectacles like Jumbo the elephant and General Tom Thumb.

The two shows merged when the Ringlings bought Barnum & Bailey in 1907. Twenty years later they relocated their headquarters to their current home in Sarasota, Florida. The Feld family acquired the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1967.

Congress of Freaks vintage circus sideshow photo
Congress of Freaks with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Circus, 1931


Ringling Bros rehearsing the zebra act in Baraboo, WI
Ringling Bros. rehearsing a zebra act in Baraboo, WI

Here’s what Circus World had to say about the news on their Facebook page Saturday night:

From Circus World in Baraboo, WI: on the very grounds where the five Ringling brothers dreamed, labored, built and exported their brand throughout America… we are profoundly saddened by the news that this traditional entertainment giant will cease to exist after May 2017. While the current brand might not be on the road after May, Circus World will continue to celebrate the Ringling Bros dreams here in Baraboo.

First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are for the hundreds of artists, crew, musicians and talented people working behind the scenes, who have dedicated their lives to bringing joy to families across America, and who will now find themselves out of work. They are circus folk so they will survive and prosper but their world got more challenging with this news.

We understand this also had to be a very difficult and heart-re wrenching decision for the Feld family; custodians of the brand since 1967. It is a brand that began in Delavan, WI with the first incarnation of a circus associated with American icon P. T. Barnum, and was further emboldened when the Ringling Bros. of Baraboo purchased The Greatest Show On Earth, and then later combined their show with it to create the largest tented circus of all time.

After 146 years of instilling wonder, excitement and awe in children of all ages, Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus will transition to the pantheon of important institutions whose legacy Circus World celebrates. With this announcement, our resolve is greater than ever to preserve the magnificent legacy of the circus.

We firmly believe that the circus is a valid, relevant, and important form of entertainment for today’s audiences. It offers an opportunity to laugh at the antics of the clowns, marvel at the drama of daring human feats, be amazed by astounding animals and dazzled by the production, music, and costumes. To paraphrase Al Ringling, people need the circus to help them forget their day to day worries and the circus affords them the opportunity to imagine a ‘better and more magical world.

At Circus World our mission remains the same… to faithfully honor the circus… past, present and future. We invite the world to visit Circus World and ALL the circuses that remain out there bringing happiness to children of all ages. We continue to celebrate the families of artists and countless others who have dedicated themselves for generations to bringing dreams to life. We continue to savor the taste of cotton candy and laugh at the clowns. America needs us more than ever … so proudly forward we go! Yes Circus World is still open and will remain so welcoming guests through our doors and under our big top. While the Ringling Bros started their circus here, we have no direct association with the current brand.

We are instead a living history museum of the Wisconsin Historical Society. Come experience the great American tradition of the circus!

Clown banner on display at Circus World Museum in Baraboo, WI

Ringling Bros. Gargantua circus poster
Vintage Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus poster on display at Circus World Museum in Baraboo, WI

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will perform their final shows on the east coast in May.

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