It was once “The Greatest Show on Earth.” But 2017 marks the end of the line for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. After 146 years of performances across the country, the curtain is closing on the iconic show.
The circus got its start in the mid-1800s and sprang from humble roots. Phineas Taylor Barnum was traveling the country with a spectacle of animals and human oddities when he met the five Ringling brothers. At the time, the brothers were performing juggling acts and skits from their home base in Wisconsin. The two acts decided to merge, and in that instant the modern circus was born. Sprawling troupes of entertainers collaborated and traveled America by train, enchanting audiences cross-country with the sheer scale of entertainment and exotic animals.
Today, things have changed. And kids have become a tough audience. We are, of course, steeped in the digital age: movies, television, video games and the internet reign supreme. The show found it harder and harder to connect and capture the attention of young minds. Over the past decade, The Greatest Show on Earth has suffered declining ticket sales.
This piece of Americana just couldn’t keep up with evolving and more interactive entertainment for kids. It’s no Pokemon Go. The show doesn’t feature YouTube celebrities. The longest segment of the circus is a twelve-minute tiger act, and parents reported it difficult for their young children to sit still for the entire routine. We’re now part of a culture that craves instant gratification and flashy entertainment. Lions and tigers and bears? They just couldn’t keep up.
For those who want a last glimpse of this treasured part of our nation’s entertainment history, there will be shows around the country until May of this year.
Cover Photo: s_bukley / Shutterstock, Inc.