Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey performers are seen during one of their last show at Philips Arena in February. Ivan Vargas is far right with the sideways hat. Matthew Lish is holding the telescope. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: Hyosub Shin/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: Hyosub Shin/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Ringling Bros. says goodbye after 146 years 

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus took its final bow Sunday night in New York as performers and fans said goodbye to the iconic circus.  

The circus gave the final performance of "The Greatest Show on Earth" to a sold-out crowd at Nassau Coliseum, showing off its awe-inspiring stunts and exotic animals for the last time after 146 years.

There was a flurry of social media posts during the last shows.

And animal activists celebrated the end of the circus.

The American spectacle was felled by a variety of factors, company executives say. Declining attendance combined with high operating costs, along with changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups all contributed to its demise. 

 "There isn't any one thing," said Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment when he announced the circus was ending earlier this year. "This has been a very difficult decision for me and for the entire family."

In metro Atlanta, the circus performed for the last time in Philips Arena from Feb. 15-20, 2017, and Duluth’s Infinite Energy Arena from Feb. 23-March 5.  

The 2017 shows included the first-ever woman ringmaster, Kristen Michelle Wilson.

Ringmaster Kristen Michelle Wilson appears during a show at Philips Arena in February. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC/hshin@ajc.com

 The circus, with its exotic animals, flashy costumes and death-defying acrobats, has been a staple of entertainment in the United States since the mid-1800s. Phineas Taylor Barnum made a traveling spectacle of animals and human oddities popular, while the five Ringling brothers performed juggling acts and skits from their home base in Wisconsin. Eventually, they merged and the modern circus was born. The sprawling troupes traveled around America by train, wowing audiences with the sheer scale of entertainment and exotic animals.

The Associated Press contributed to this article

For the circus’ final shows, Ringling Bros. are touring with the first-ever female ringmaster. (Erica A. Hernandez/AJC)
Video: www.accessatlanta.com

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.