End of an era

After nearly a century and a half of high-flying acrobatics, clowns on stilts and exotic elephant acts, the curtain is coming down on ‘the greatest show on earth’

It claims itself to be ‘the greatest show on earth’. It was also a beloved part of childhood to many kids in the United States and all across the world. But now, after over 146 years of its existence, the curtain is coming down on the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The owners of the iconic American spectacle have announced that it will close the establishment in May; fans are calling it the end of a glorious era.

With its exotic animals, flashy costumes and death-defying acrobats, this has been a staple of entertainment in the US since the mid-1800s. But declining attendance combined with high operating costs, changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups have contributed to its demise. Before taking the final bow, the circus will perform 30 shows across the US till May.

Phineas Taylor Barnum, an American politician, showman and businessman who founded the Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1871, made a travelling spectacle of animals and human oddities popular, while the five Ringling brothers – who ran one of the largest travelling amusement enterprises of that time – performed juggling acts and skits from their home base in Wisconsin, the US.

Eventually, they merged and the modern circus was born. The sprawling troupes travelled around America by train, wowing audiences with the sheer scale of entertainment and exotic animals. The Ringling circus was bought over by the Feld family in 1967. The show was just under three hours then. Today, the show is two hours and seven minutes, with the longest segment — a tiger act — clocking in at 12 minutes. The circus was routine, wholesome family entertainment. But with time, kids became less enthralled. The circus didn’t have savvy product merchandising tie-ins either to shore up its image. Meanwhile, another harsh reality was looming large – animals – the one thing that drew millions to the show. Eventually, in May 2016, after a long and costly legal battle, the company removed the elephants from the shows and sent the animals to live on a conservation farm in central Florida. The animals had been the symbol of the circus since Barnum brought an Asian elephant named Jumbo to America in 1882.

Attendance had been on a decline for several years, but when the elephants left, there was a ‘dramatic drop’ in ticket sales.

Now, that the circus is winding up, the Feld family members reportedly say their existing animals – lions, tigers, camels, donkeys, alpacas, kangaroos and llamas – will go to suitable homes. The company will continue operating the Center for Elephant Conservation, as per reports.

By: Kunal Doley

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