‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ to End After 146 Years

'The Greatest Show on Earth' to End After 146 Years

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus announced on January 14 that is will cease performances in May of 2017, bringing to an end more than 146 years of entertaining millions of people in what has been called "The Greatest Show on Earth."

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus will continue to tour for the next few months with 10 shows at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia from February 16 to February 20 and 15 shows at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. from February 23 to March 3. The last performances of this circus will be in Providence, R.I. on May 7 and in Uniondale, N.Y, on May 21. Other Feld productions, including Disney on Ice, Disney Live!, Monster Jam and Arenacross, will continue and the company said it will continue to produce new shows.

For those of you who have never seen "The Greatest Show on Earth," a motion picture of the same name won the Academy Awards' "Best Picture" Oscar in 1952. Produced by Cecil B. DeMille, the film starred Charlton Heston and Betty Hutton.

According to Thomson Reuters, the reasons given for closing down were "declining  ticket sales and high operating costs." Another reason given by Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, the show's Florida-based producer, was years of protests by animal rights activists  and a six-figure fine that ultimately resulted in the end of elephant performances. He said declining sales had fallen off even more dramatically following what he called "the transition of the elephants off the road."

PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said in a statement that 36 years of PETA protests had "awoken the world to the plight of animals in captivity." Activists often appeared outside the circus with fliers protesting the use of elephants and pictures of animals they said were being abused. A lawsuit brought by Feld Entertainment, which claimed malicious prosecution, resulted in a settlement of about $25 million paid by more than a dozen animal rights groups that ended 14 years of litigation.

But PETA, an abbreviation for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, continues to criticize Feld Entertainment for the conditions at Ringling's breeding compound (where the elephants have been sent), which "are nearly as bad as they are on the road. Elephants are chained on concrete for most of the day — sometimes for weeks on end. That includes pregnant mothers, who are kept in chains while giving birth. Inspectors have found baby elephants with chain wounds on their legs and the facility's records show that most of the elephants have foot or leg problems related to intensive confinement."

Laurie Weisman