Ringling Bros. Circus gives final performance after 146 years

The Ringling Bros. Twitter account and some fans shared a few final moments from the show online as things progressed.

Iverson then led the audience through a one last rendition of "Auld Lang Syne", a tradition at the end of circuses, as performers sang along and hugged one another.

Producers removed elephants from the show's performances a year ago, and Feld Entertainment, which owns the circus, said ticket sales dropped drastically.

And so tonight, sometime after 9 p.m., the Greatest Show on Earth will be no more.

"We've been a part of something so magnificent. but if people aren't coming to the show, you can't keep having a circus", said 30-year-old Ashley Vargas, a Ringling ice skater. "We got to see animals here and the Bronx Zoo".

The finale, announced by Feld in January, came a year after the company bowed to pressure from animal rights activists and agreed to stop using elephants in its performances. "PETA is urging everyone to build on this momentum by never buying a ticket to any circus or amusement park that still uses live animals". On Sunday, about three dozen protesters stood outside the NYCB Live's Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum with signs. But while Ringling's mile-long train of animals and humans continued crisscrossing the country, it ultimately could not weather another major transition: last year's exit of its most famed performers, the elephants.

Ringling Bros. Circus gives final performance after 146 years

Feld's father and uncle bought the circus in 1967.

During Sunday's final performance, Alexander Lacey, the circus's big cat trainer, addressed the animal-rights issue directly, pausing from his act to tell the crowd that the circus had bred, raised and cared for 500 lions and tigers - on display Sunday night, he said, were the circus's ninth generation of tigers and 11th generation of lions. It was sold to Mattel in 1971, but the Feld family continued to manage the shows.

"There's a lot of mixed emotions, said Rev. George "Jerry" Hogan, Ringling's circus chaplain. I'm seeing people I haven't seen in years".

Once a mainstay of entertainment in small towns and big cities across the country, Ringling had two touring circuses this season, one of which ended its run earlier this month in Providence, Rhode Island.

Circus executives said the wild animals, acrobats, clowns and other circus acts that had entertained audiences for over a century could not withstand the 21st century competition of IPhones, the internet and video games. Called "Out of This World", it was set in futuristic outer space.

  • Salvatore Jensen