Parent company, Feld Entertainment, announced in January it would close the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, citing declining attendance and high operating costs.
The circus, which traces its lineage back to showman P.T. Barnum's traveling museum in the 1800s, performed its final show at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y.
Alexander Lacey and his big cat show were a crowd favourite.
A century later, Ringling had become the target of animal protection groups that claimed it mistreated its elephants, and the two sides soon locked in a 14-year legal battle so cutthroat that it involved secret informants paid by animal advocacy groups and a former Central Intelligence Agency official who was paid by Ringling's parent company, Feld Entertainment, to gather intel on activists. "The decision was even more hard because of the wonderful fans that have become part of our extended circus family over the years, and we are extremely grateful to the millions of families who have made Ringling Bros. part of their lives for generations".
"Circuses around the world that beat Ringling to the punch in making the decision to stop using animals are thriving".
The results have stretched far beyond Ringling's demise: Humans watching wild animals do tricks is now, if not entirely socially unacceptable (Ringling's lions and tigers garnered a lot of delighted applause when I saw the show), certainly unacceptable among the politically liberal elites who set the tone for the general culture. "But while the show is over for that circus, there are still others that continue these same types of horrific abuse", says PETA Assistant Manager John Di Leonardo. He spoke Sunday just before the second-to-last ever circus show. It was sold to Mattel in 1971, but the Feld family continued to manage the shows.
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"I'm becoming an adult today", said 46-year-old Heather Greenberg, of New York City.
"We'll never get a chance to take our grandchildren to the circus", she said. On Saturday, under cloudy skies, fans streamed into the Nassau Coliseum in suburban NY to pay their last respects to the iconic show. That show was the more traditional, three-ring circus, while the one performing this weekend has a narrative storyline.
"Every single circus in America used Ringling Brothers as their compass", he said.
He said more than 250 million people had seen Ringling's shows and added: "It's the people, it's the spirit, the dedication, the perseverance of everyone that you'll see here tonight that makes the impossible possible".
Earlier Sunday, a group of retired and former circus performers sat across the street at a hotel bar, laughing and hugging and sharing memories of tours past.