Billed as “The Greatest Show on Earth,” the famous Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has long been a cultural institution in America. Featuring eye-catching costumes, awe-inspiring animals, and breathtaking acrobatics, the Ringling/Barnum circus actually began life as two different traveling shows, both created in the mid-1880s. The first, Barnum & Bailey Circus was created in 1881, while the second, Ringling Bros. Circus, was created in 1884.

After the death of co-founder James Anthony Bailey in 1906, Ringling Bros. purchased Barnum & Bailey, although they continued operating the two circuses as separate touring shows until 1919. At that point, the two brands fused to become the now familiar Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and have been traveling around performing as one ever since. Unfortunately, as entertainment options have gotten more and more plentiful over recent decades, circus attendance has steadily declined. Battles with animal rights groups concerning Ringling Bros’ treatment of its animal stars have also dogged the company.

Now, the Associated Press reports that after well over 100 years of shows, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is set to close up shop. The current tour will continue until May, with 30 more shows set to be performed between now and then. At that point, the iconic American spectacle will take its final bow. According to Ringling CEO Kenneth Feld, there wasn’t any one factor that led to the company’s closure, with a combination of things contributing to its demise. In addition to to the aforementioned declining attendance and animal rights issues, costs to operate the show had only continued to rise, as profits continued to fall.

In 1952, Paramount Pictures and legendary director Cecil B. DeMille created The Greatest Show on Earth, a drama set in and around the Ringling Bros. Circus. This further helped to immortalize it in the eyes of the public, even featuring the actors learning and then participating in the actual circus acts. The film starred Hollywood heavyweights like Charlton Heston and Jimmy Stewart and went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars. It also earned DeMille his first Best Director nomination.

Whether one was a fan or not of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, it’s impossible to deny what the show meant to American culture over its long existence. While many - especially those who have accused them of mistreating their animals - will say that the closure is long overdue, this event truly does mark the end of an era. The Greatest Show on Earth is no more.

Source: Associated Press