Ringling Bros. shuts down the big top

The farewell show, at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale on New York's Long Island, was a sell-out, bringing the curtain down on a legacy dating back to 1871, Reuters reports.

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has begun its final show after 146 years of wowing audiences with the "Greatest Show on Earth".

"This was her first and last time", spectator Stephanie Culff, 31, said of her baby daughter, Emily, who wore a new dress decorated with Dumbo the elephant on the top and circus-tent stripes on the skirt.

A circus performer hangs upside down during a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performance in Washington, DC on March 19, 2015. Among the stunts, she did a headstand on his shoulders and Laszlo Simet rode a bicycle around the wheel's rim while carrying his wife and another performer.

"As far as this great American institution, it is a sad moment", ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson said. A featured attraction for more than a century, the elephants had come to symbolize the Ringling Bros brand.

An acrobat performs in a transparent ball suspended above the floor during the final show of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Sunday, May 21, 2017, in Uniondale, N.Y.

Gymnasts perform during the last show of the Ringling Bros.

Feld said when the company removed the elephants from the shows, ticket sales declined more dramatically than expected.

A spokesman for the circus says homes have been found for the animals that were owned by Ringling, including the tigers, horses and camels.

Bario cried as she watched the final big cat act with its leopards, tigers and Alexander Lacey, the handsome animal trainer.

While Ringling's closure is a tremendous victory, no retirement plans have been announced for any of the animals used and abused by the now-defunct circus.

PETA has always been an outspoken critic of Ringling's use of elephants - and it's still protesting the circus' use of other animals, including big cats, horses, kangaroos and small farm animals. The circus has long defended its treatment of animals as humane.

"People aren't really concerned with wildlife until they see it, feel it and love it as much as I do", Lacey said.

For the performers, it also means the end of a tight-knit community that lived on a train in between shows.

Ringling Brothers has two touring companies, each with as many as 200 full-time workers. About 250 are in captivity in the United States, 26 of which were born in the past 20 years at Ringling facilities. The final circus show Sunday night will be streamed on Facebook Live and on the circus' website.

  • Larry Hoffman