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Running away to circus now more difficult as Ringling Bros. shuts down

Photo: The Washington Post / Getty Images

Kids threatening to run away and join the circus are examining their options this morning, as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus, once one of the biggest names in American entertainment, has performed its last show. Following a speech from longtime ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson, the audience at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Long Island gave the performers a final standing ovation, according to The New York Times. The performance was, of course, emotional for the performers—many of whom are third or fourth-generation circus folk—as well as the audience, largely composed of nostalgic adults who grew up with the self-proclaimed Greatest Show on Earth.

That contingent was no longer enough to sustain Ringling Bros.’ business, however, with sharp declines in ticket sales only increasing after the circus eliminated elephant shows in 2016. Animal rights activists, who have called for the circus to shut down for years, were present outside the arena yesterday. But the real driving force behind the shutdown seems to simply be time—with origins dating back to 1871, Ringling Bros. was a relic of not only a pre-internet age, but a pre-cinema one.


Smaller traveling circuses like Carson & Barnes and the UniverSoul Circus—one of whose performers was seriously injured after falling during the “Wheel of Death” acrobatic stunt over the weekend—continue to tour the small towns of America, collecting accusations of animal cruelty along the way. Other options for nostalgically-minded runaway youth include the all-human Cirque du Soleil and becoming an organ grinder, which is still a thing, albeit a fading one, in Mexico City.

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