The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus ended its 146-year run this month, holding its final show May 21 at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in New York.
Declining attendance combined with high operating costs are among the reasons the company gave for the closing of the taglined “Greatest Show on Earth.” A lengthy legal battle with animal rights groups forced the iconic circus to drop its elephant acts last May, leading to a sharper-than-expected decline in attendance.
The Ringling circus may have been the biggest, but it’s definitely not the only American circus. Carrying on the tradition are circuses that operate in the old-time way, under big tops in small towns across the Midwest and along the East Coast. The Kelly Miller Circus, run by Ringling relatives, moves to a new town every day, performing two circuses a day. They’re able to keep their doors open, they say, by knowing their audience and keeping costs down.
This segment originally aired May 22, 2017, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.