Ringling Bros. shuts down the big top after 146 years

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus took a final, bittersweet bow Sunday, staging its last three shows here after 146 years of entertaining American audiences with gravity-defying trapeze stunts, comically clumsy clowns and tamed tigers. Feld finally gave in after years of misleading and false charges from PETA resulted in protests everywhere the circus performed.

"Let's go home and show everyone we are forever more the Greatest Show on Earth!"

Nock, who has a signature shock of two-foot-tall blond hair, performed with the Ringling circus from 2000-2008, spoke Sunday just before the second-to-last ever circus show.

Ringling's parent company, Feld Entertainment, announced in January that it would close the production, citing declining attendance and high operating costs. "The decision was even more hard because of the wonderful fans that have become part of our extended circus family over the years, and we are extremely grateful to the millions of families who have made Ringling Bros. part of their lives for generations". His parents met at the Ringling circus in 1954 and said the show inspired generations of performers.

In the early to mid-20th century, Ringling, which merged with Barnum & Bailey in 1919, was a much-anticipated event. And in May 2016, the company removed elephants from its shows, but ticket sales continued to decline.

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Circus executives said the wild animals, acrobats, clowns and other circus acts that had entertained audiences for over a century could not withstand the 21st century competition of IPhones, the internet and video games.

After more than 100 years in operation, CEO Kenneth Feld chose to close down the circus, citing a dramatic dip in ticket sales. But the Kill Ringling movement - which includes many groups, among them the Humane Society of the United States, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Performing Animal Welfare Society, as well as celebrities such as "Baywatch" star Pamela Anderson and "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane - was nothing if not dedicated.

"People are not really concerned with wildlife until they feel it and see it and enjoy it", he said, "and love it as much as I do - until they've seen it with their own eyes". He drove from his home in CT for the final show at 7pm on Sunday, the last of about 350 Ringling performances he has attended. "You mean you love the circus?"

"Every single circus in America used Ringling Brothers as their compass", he said. Ringling Brothers had to transport a mountain of equipment, thousands of people, and hundreds of animals from venue to venue. Circusgoers lined up to buy snow cones served in elephant-shaped mugs and snag leopard plush toys - one of which Culff bought for seven-month-old Emily.

He said more than 250 million people had seen Ringling's shows and added: "It's the people, it's the spirit, the dedication, the perseverance of everyone that you'll see here tonight that makes the impossible possible". Performers sang along and hugged one another.

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