Curtain call: the closing of an American institution

After more than 145 years of wowing audiences, The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus will be pulling down its big top, once and for all this May. There are still a few shows left within driving distance of several military installations, but not many.
Michael S. Darnell and Ken-Yon Hardy/Stars and Stripes

By MICHAEL S. DARNELL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 1, 2017

WASHINGTON – Come one, come all, for one final gander at the greatest show on Earth.

After more than 145 years of wowing audiences, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus will be pulling down its big top once and for all in May. Flagging ticket sales – spurred in part by the removal of its famed elephant act last year because of pressure by animal rights activist groups – sounded the death knell for this once-ubiquitous American institution.

By far the largest circus in the U.S., Ringling Bros. has operated since 1884. Barnum & Bailey has been going strong since 1881. The two acts merged before the start of World War I and have been a part of American culture ever since.

“It’s sad. I’ve been coming for the last 30 years,” said Shannon Joshua, a circus fan who brought her sons, Kertis, 10, and Kamren, 8, to Friday’s show at the Verizon Center in Washington.

Joshua said she was there, in part, to relive memories of her childhood experiences at the circus, and also to create new memories with her family. “I’m excited for us all to be here to enjoy it one last time.”

There is still time to catch a show before the circus is relegated to history. The “Out of this World” half of the show will be in Fairfax, Va., less than an hour’s drive from Quantico, Va.

It will then move to Baltimore before heading to West Virginia and ultimately, Uniondale, New York. The final scheduled performance will be held in Providence, R.I., on May 4-7. After that, it’ll be gone for good.

Ashley Vargas, a longtime circus performer with Ringling Bros., said that while the troupers are sad to see the circus close down, the show – at least for now – must go on.

“No matter how old you are, no matter if you have kids or don’t have children, or if you haven’t been to the circus since you were six years old, I think it’s important come out one last time to say goodbye to the show,” she said.


Circus acrobats dangle high above the crowd at the Verizon Center in Washington, during the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's stop in the nation's capital on Friday, March 31, 2017.