Arts

Lions and Tigers and Bears: NO MORE!

America’s First Entertainment Empire Will Be Closing After 146 years

By: Regina E. Romandetti

Kelly Ann, a 19-year-old Asian elephant, walks away after a news conference at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at the Frank Erwin Center on Wednesday August 19, 2015. The circus held the news conference to express its opposition to the Austin City Council’s recent passage of an ordinance prohibiting the use of bull hooks, which will go into effect on October 1, 2016. Ringling Bros. has 43 Asian elephants, the largest herd in North America. The circus will be in town through Sunday. It will be the first shows in Austin since the council passed the ordinance. Meanwhile, outside the arena about 50 animal rights activists protested the circus. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

A time before the internet, the radio and television, the only form of mass entertainment was live performances such as the circus. Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus is the most famous circus act today, and after a 146 years it will be saying its final farewell on May 21, 2017.

The Ringling Brothers first started in 1871 by five out of the seven brothers in Baraboo, Wisconsin. The eldest brother became so mesmerized by his first experience after attending a show that they started their own performances in their backyard. The brothers started the circus with a $1,000 loan to start traveling.

The first means of transportation was a horse and wagon. Have you ever heard of the saying “when the circus comes to town?” In 1888 the circus started traveling by train. This helped the Ringling brothers double their show in size.

The circus added an aquarium with seals, a museum and even a hippo. The circus train became its own city named Ringlingville. It had its own post office where a clown would deliver its mail daily.

The Brothers wanted to extend their business, and that feeling of excitement, further across America. They purchased the Barnum & Bailey circus in 1907 to get the east coast to clown around.

The circuses were run separately until it became too much to juggle and they were merged together in 1919. That’s how the name became The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus was sold to other ringleaders throughout the years. The circus had to change during its time to keep up with the newer generations.

Special effects were added to grab the attention of the audience. The circus is nothing like its original performances. The recent circus shows give the feel of a broadway production via added storylines.

The circus is the only place where you can eat cotton candy while watching clowns juggle and lions jump through rings. The circus is a wondrous and magical place. A place where all generations could gather together and be in awe. That’s how it stayed in business for so many years.

The world is not the same place since the circus first came to town. Worker laws have been added to protect the people in the show. Animal rights activists have been protesting the safety of the animals. These are some of the factors why the circus needed to change.

The circus was known for having elephants parade around wearing elaborate garments and head gear with feathers and sequins. Animal activists believed it was unfair for the animals to be  working and due to much controversy, the circus retired its elephants.

The elephants retired to 200 acre reservation. It costs $65,000 a year to maintain one elephant. They now receive pedicures and baths often.

The show must go on without the elephants. Sadly, the circus only went on six months after the retirement, before they announced they will be closing. One of the biggest factors in closing the circus were that they couldn’t beat city hall to keep their elephants.

It’s sad to say that “The Greatest Show On Earth,” with all its history and memories, will be saying its final farewell. Soon, smaller circuses will be following their lead and closing. It’s unbelievable to think that future generations will never see a circus live.
So ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, children of all ages, let’s not let the circus become a distant memory.

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1 reply »

  1. Ringling Bros. cannot become a distant memory soon enough. Its history is built on a foundation of abusing and exploiting animals, and its intransigence is why the circus will soon go dark. Instead of acknowledging the mood shift that one of it executives referenced when Ringling announced that it was ending its elephant acts, it clung to its failed business model. Other circuses that still abuse animals would be wise to recognize what Ringling would not–that people who care about animals don’t find chaining, beating and whipping them entertaining–or their days will be numbered, too,

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