The 146-year-old entertainment institution that was Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus had its final show ever at Long Island’s Nassau Colisseum on May 21.
The bittersweet show featured moments of tribute from the cast of aerial acrobats, motorcycle daredevils, animal trainers and more, ending in the traditional singalong of “Auld Lang Syne.” The final show was broadcast live, and you can watch it here:
“The Greatest Show on Earth” grew to be the spectacle of the year in any town when the Big Top rolled in on its mile-long train, pitching up a three-ring circus that would entertain 12,000 people a night, Circus Fans Association of America president Gary Payne told NBC News.
Recently, the circus has seen ticket sales fall, especially since it had to retire its elephants a year ago due to pressure from animal rights activists. They’ve all gone to a sanctuary in Florida set up by the circus; the rest of the approximately 50 performing animals have all found homes, according to Payne.
But it’s the human magic that’s been at the heart of the show way before the animals arrived that performers say is the true loss. Rigoberto Cardenas is the fifth generation of his family to work as a trapeze artist, telling the New York Times, “New generations of my family, they are not going to see in me what they want to be. For a circus performer, that’s what you aim to do, to be in the memory of your people for all time.”