Published: Tue, May 23, 2017
Sport | By Cecil Buchanan

Ringling Bros. shuts down the big top after 146 years

Kenneth Feld called Sunday's final shows "a celebration".

As the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performed its second-to-last show Sunday afternoon, a group of retired and former circus performers sat across the street at a hotel bar, laughing and hugging and sharing memories of tours past. The world is losing "a place of wonder", the New York Times reported the ringmaster, days before the final performance.

Aerialist Paulo dos Santos seems to fly in space in his act in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus on Sunday.

Although it eventually was the last of about two dozen American circuses to still travel by train, Ringling continued trying to modernise and surprise.

The circus has wowed crowds for decades with its "Greatest Show on Earth", and is taking its final bow Sunday evening. Many in the audience had tears.

Members of the audience react during the final show of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Sunday, May 21, 2017, in Uniondale, N.Y.

One commenter remarked: "i remember seeing the Greatest Show on Earth as a little girl with my family". His son, who also performed, stood by his side.

The show - performed in Uniondale, New York - comes after months after the circus owners announced it would be bring the curtain down on its performers.

It was an emotional 2 1/2 hours for those who worked on the circus. PETA posted picket-bearing protesters outside almost every Ringling performance and flooded the Internet with disturbing videos showing helpless beasts shackled in chains, closely confined in cages, goaded with hooks and whips and vulnerable to infectious diseases in packed circus trains.

But it also was the fans who felt like family.

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"Every single circus in America used Ringling Brothers as their compass", he said.

"The animals, this is where we fell in love with them", she said. "It's a different model that we can't see how it works in today's world to justify and maintain an affordable ticket price".

The animal rights group tied Ringling's demise to its long-standing resistance to demands that it stop using animals.

A spokesman for the circus says homes have been found for the animals that were owned by Ringling, including the tigers, horses and camels. In May 2016, the company removed elephants from its shows, but ticket sales continued to decline.

PETA wants people to go not just vegetarian (cows feel fear) but vegan (eating eggs exploits chickens).

A handful of protesters stood outside the venue on Sunday, with signs that said "compassion always wins", and "the future is animal free".

Feld's father and uncle bought the circus in 1967, sold it to Mattel in 1971 before buying it back again 11 years later.

Feld, his voice sometimes shaking, said that in the 50 years that his family had produced the circus, over a quarter-billion people had seen its shows. I was lucky enough to see one of its last performances, in early April.

"There's a lot of mixed emotions, said Rev. George "Jerry" Hogan, Ringling's circus chaplain".

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