Ringling Bros. circus to close after 146 years

ELLENTON, Fla. (AP) – The owners of Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced Saturday that they will close the 146-year-old show in May.

Kenneth Feld, the chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, which owns the circus, said declining attendance combined with high operating costs are the reasons for closing.

Here’s where things stand with the iconic show:

WHEN IS THE CIRCUS’ FINAL SHOW?

Ringling Bros. has two touring circuses this season: “Circus Extreme” and “Out of This World.” The final show for “Circus Extreme” will be in Providence, Rhode Island, on May 7, and the other will close after a performance in Uniondale, New York, at the Nassau County Coliseum on May 21.

WHAT HAPPENS BETWEEN NOW AND MAY?

The two touring circuses will perform a total of 30 shows over the next four months. Most of the shows will be held in the South or the East Coast. Major stops include Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston and Brooklyn. Tickets can still be purchased online and at venues.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THE EMPLOYEES?

The Feld family has owned the circus for 49 years, and employs some 500 people for the show. Those employees were told about the closure on Saturday night, after shows in Orlando and Miami. A handful will be placed in positions with the company’s other shows – it owns Monster Jam, Disney on Ice and Marvel Live, among other things – but most will be out of a job. Chief Operating Officer Juliette Feld said the company will help employees with job placement and resumes. In some cases where a circus employee lives on the tour rail car (the circus travels by train), the company will also help with housing relocation.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THE ANIMALS?

In May of 2016, Ringling retired all of its elephants to a property in central Florida. Forty elephants live at the Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk County. But the circus still has other animals, such as lions, tigers, camels, donkeys, alpacas, kangaroos and llamas.

Juliette Feld says homes will be found for the animals, but the company will continue operating the Center for Elephant Conservation.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THE COSTUMES AND PROPS?

The Feld family hasn’t decided what it will do with the enormous warehouse filled with circus costumes and props. Kenneth Feld says the company will continue to work with the Circus Museum at The Ringling in Sarasota. That museum holds memorabilia dating to the 1800s, when John Ringling and his family founded Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus.

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From New York to Wisconsin to London and beyond, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus has performed for millions of fans during its 146-year reign as one of the world’s biggest big tops.

The show, which is closing down permanently because of declining ticket sales, has its roots in a spectacle that began two decades before the U.S. Civil War – equal parts freak show, zoo and museum. In 1881 it officially became the circus that generations grew up watching and saw many evolutions over the years, most recently with its decision to retire its elephant acts.

– 1841 – Phineas Taylor Barnum buys Scudder’s American Museum in New York City and renames it Barnum’s American Museum, which was something of a zoo, museum, lecture hall and freak show. It was filled with artifacts and items from around the world. The museum later burned down. Barnum also took his show on the road as “P.T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling American Museum.”

– 1881 – Barnum partners with James A. Bailey and James L. Hutchinson for “P.T. Barnum’s Greatest Show On Earth, And The Great London Circus, Sanger’s Royal British Menagerie and The Grand International Allied Shows United,” later shortened to the “Barnum & London Circus.”

– 1882 – The Ringling Brothers – Alf, Al, Charles, John and Otto – performed their first vaudeville-style show in Mazomanie, Wisconsin.

– 1884 – The Ringling Brothers Circus begins as a traveling performance.

– 1887 – The official Ringling touring show became the “Ringling Bros. United Monster Shows, Great Double Circus, Royal European Menagerie, Museum, Caravan, and Congress of Trained Animals.”

– 1895 – The Ringlings decided to branch out to New England, which was already the territory of P.T. Barnum. According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, the two circuses “agreed to divide the U.S. rather than compete head-to-head. The Ringlings established their headquarters in Chicago while Barnum and Bailey stayed in New York.”

– 1907 – After the death of James Bailey, the Ringlings buy Barnum and Bailey. They keep the circuses separate, and the Wisconsin Historical Society wrote that by the 1910s the Ringling Bros. Circus had more than 1,000 employees, 335 horses, 26 elephants, 16 camels and other assorted animals that traveled on 92 railcars. The Barnum and Bailey Circus was roughly the same size.

– 1919 – The two circuses merged and became known as “Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows.”

– 1927 – John Ringling moves circus headquarters to Sarasota, Florida.

– 1967 – Irvin Feld, a music and entertainment promoter, buys The Ringling circus and formally acquires it in a ceremony held at the Colosseum in Rome.

– 1985 – Kenneth Feld, Irvin’s son, becomes the owner of Feld Entertainment and the circus after his father dies.

– 2016 – Feld Entertainment announces it will retire elephants from its circus shows. The animals are moved to its Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk County, Florida.

– 2017 – Feld Entertainment announces that it will close the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

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