Closing the Curtain on a Century of Circuses


Abby Summers

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus have made the difficult decision to hold their final performances this year due to a decline in ticket sales and high operating costs. After 146 years of lively entertainment that brought the child out in everyone, “The Greatest Show On Earth” will be taking its final curtain call in May of 2017. Following the announcement of the closure on January 14, there has been controversy regarding the many years of the touring circus.

Though this announcement is a heartbreak for many, there has also been rejoicing among animal rights activists everywhere. In 2015, the Ringling Bros. eliminated the use of elephants, which was a huge focal point in their performances. The elephants were able to retire into a reserve in Florida after spending years taking tiresome commands from their ringmasters. Therefore, organizations like The Humane Society of the United States and PETA were filled with relief knowing that these mammals will no longer be objectified in the circus.

Just as some people breathed a sigh of relief after the unexpected announcement, nostalgic advocates for the show were filled with disappointment. In today’s world, most large corporations only care about making money. However, the Ringling Bros. Circus is family-owned and has always strived to bring happiness to their audiences through their performers. Their closing will eliminate one of the few family-owned companies that is still around today.

Despite the closing of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, other circuses are still flourishing throughout the country. In the United States alone, there are about 85 circus schools where children learn skills in juggling, wire-walking, trapeze and clowning. These schools enable kids to join popular shows, like Circque de Soleil or Circus Flora, which is based right here in St. Louis.

Though people have varying opinions about the circus, the farewell the world is saying to “The Greatest Show On Earth” is unexpected. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey truly made the circus into the popular spectacle that it is today. Nevertheless, audiences can continue to support Feld Entertainment, the company’s owner, as they also bring us shows like Disney On Ice. Thank you to the Ringling Bros. for the many years of allowing everyone to be a kid again, even if it was only for one night under the big top!