The Circus has been one of the most epic pieces of good old-fashioned Americana from decades past. One of the biggest examples of this time-honored tradition had been the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which rightly held to its slogan of “The Greatest Show on Earth.” But times have changed and attitudes with them. Once awed for their trained animal acts, circuses were hit hard by animal rights groups, spurring audiences to drop off in disastrous numbers. Ringling Bros. announced January that they would close up for good in the middle of the year.

On Sunday, May 21 the curtain fell on their circus for the last time.

One last hurrah

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey performed for the last time in Uniondale, New York. This was the second of their final showings, with the other unit having already performed a shutdown act earlier this month at Providence, Rhode Island. Their final show at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum was also broadcast and streamed by the circus on both its official website and on Facebook Live, so many people got to see their last hurrah. At one point the FB live stream reached 19,000 viewers.

Tracing its 146-year rich history back to the merger of legendary showman PT Barnum’s travelling museum and the Ringling Brothers juggling acts in the 1800s, Ringling was not spared the general onslaught launched by animal rights advocates who decried all circus animal training as cruelty.

But on this final night it felt as if the protesters didn’t exist, as people who saw the circus in their childhood brought their own families along to watch the magic happen one last time. Trained lions and tigers, motorcycle stunts, flying trapeze, and even a unicycle basketball game entertained the crowd for just over two hours of spectacles, before the performers gathered to bid the fans farewell with a rendition of “Auld Lang Syne”, a Ringling tradition at the end of their tours.

Animal rights triumphant

While circus aficionados are somber, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) are utterly triumphant at the downfall of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, which they have disparagingly called “The Saddest Show on Earth.” Taking time off from pestering NFL Hall of Famer Joe Montana for investing in the meat industry, PETA posted on their Twitter page to celebrate the circus closing after over three decades of their protesting against it.

They are now inspired to see all remaining circuses and zoos throughout the world follow this fate.