On Saturday, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced that it would cease operating this spring after 146 years of entertaining American audiences with stunts and animal acts.
"I have made the difficult business decision that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey will hold its final performances in May of this year," CEO Kenneth Feld said via press release. He noted that "ticket sales have been declining" for some time, but the company "saw an even more dramatic drop" after retiring their elephant acts last year.
Feld added that he regrets having to let down performers as well as fans with the news.
"The circus and its people have continually been a source of inspiration and joy to my family and me, which is why this was such a tough business decision to make," he wrote. "The decision was even more difficult because of the amazing 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. We know Ringling Bros. isn’t only our family business, but also your family tradition."
"It's just not acceptable any longer to cart wild animals from city to city and have them perform silly yet coercive stunts," Humane Society CEO Wayne Pacelle wrote in a press release titled Victory! "I know this is bittersweet for the Feld family, but I applaud their decision to move away from an institution grounded on inherently inhumane wild animal acts."
But fans of the circus will undoubtedly be saddened to see this slice of Americana fade into the past. Since opening in 1871, the circus became an American institution. In 1952, Cecil B. DeMille featured the circus in his drama The Greatest Show on Earth, starring Charlton Heston and Jimmy Stewart. And in December 2017, Hugh Jackman will star as P.T. Barnum on the big screen in the musical The Greatest Showman.