Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus captivated audiences with animal tricks, death-defying stunts, and slapstick clowns for nearly 150 years. But in recent decades, criticism from animal rights groups, legal woes, and declining ticket sales have made the circus business an unsustainable one.
Trainer Edward Healy and an elephant during the 90th annual Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus in New York's Madison Square Garden on March 31, 1960. | (AP Photo/Harvey Lippman)
Last year, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus eliminated elephant performances. And now, the parent company's CEO Kenneth Feld has announced the circus will close up shop for good in May.
"We are grateful to the hundreds of millions of fans who have experienced Ringling Bros. over the years," a company statement said. "Between now and May, we will give them one last chance to experience the joy and wonder of Ringling Bros."
P.T. Barnum started the show in 1871 as a "grand traveling museum, menagerie, caravan, and circus." It was so popular that Barnum copyrighted the circus' title, "Greatest Show on Earth." But it didn't age well. Recently, the circus has suffered controversies and bankruptcy, and has struggled to keep up with changing audience tastes.
Before it closes for good, take a look back at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus through the years.
Clown Emmett Kelly picks up a toddler during a circus parade in New York on April 9, 1945. | (AP Photo/Anthony Camerano)
An audience at New York's Bellevue Hospital watches circus elephants on April 21, 1950. Thirteen acts were presented during the one-hour show. | (AP Photo/Tom Fitzsimmons)
Ilonka Karoly, 17-year-old ballerina, performs in New York on May 12, 1956. | (AP Photo/Robert Kradin)
Fred Johnson puts the final touches on huge circus museum banners in Wisconsin on July 14, 1959. | (AP Photo/Edward Kitch)
Animal trainer Trevor Bale growls at one of his tigers in New York on March 31, 1955. | (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler)
The Loyal-Repensky troupe of riding performers on two cantering white houses during dress rehearsal at Madison Square Garden on April 4, 1944. | (AP Photo/Anthony Camerano)
An elephant walks out of a train in the Bronx railroad yard on April 1, 1963. | (AP Photo)