End of an Era: Ringling Bros. To Close Its Final Curtain

It was announced yesterday that the Ringling Brothers Circus is to close that final curtain before the start of summer.   The cause they say are many things; show attendance and the trouble caused by PETA to name two.

Thank You PETA: slowly destroying my childhood one magical memory at a time.

When we moved to Alabama, I did notice an incredibly low show attendance, and I always worried about how our low attendance could discourage the circus from visiting our town, I didn’t even fathom we were facing the end for the circus altogether.

Is it Lack of Interest or Lack of Funds?

Less than a decade ago chairman & CEO Kenneth Feld handed the circus off to his daughters, just as ticket sales were beginning to plunge.  They blame the plunge in sales with kids’ general lack of interest due to the high excitement of video games and the movies.   Though, as we’ve discussed on Shopgirl before, declining ticket sales coincide with the the many reasons retailers are now finding themselves shuttering across the nation, tighter pockets.   The circus for a family is expensive at forty dollars a seat, twelve dollars for popcorn, and twelve dollars for one cup of lemonade.  This makes for a several hundred dollar afternoon when potential audience members of America were still questioning how they were going to put food on the table next week.

Absence of Elephants or Absence of Variation?

I also have to call out a lack in show quality and variation.   The last Ringling Bros. I attended that wowed me had to be around 2011 when they were touring their steampunk like Side Show themed series, this of course was before I even had kids, just a single adult who found myself to be quite the circus enthusiast!

Attendance has been dropping for 10 years, said Juliette Feld, but when the elephants left, there was a “dramatic drop” in ticket sales.

This I find to be a bold claim since the elephants were just officially dropped this past year, exactly as my hometown received a rerun performance at equal cost.   How many families are going to pay to see the same show twice?  How can you place blame on the elephants, when you haven’t even given a new fresh circus a try?  I must agree I was concerned by the absence of elephants this past trip to the circus, but the tigers, pups, and horses kept my kids beyond enthralled.  I actually found myself leaving the circus, knowing that without the crutch of an elephant this would force Ringling Bros. to research new exotic ways to catch our attention.

The Heart of Ringling Bros.

Pony and horse trainer waves to circus audience

I have been a regular Ringling Bros. attendee since before I can remember.  It was something my father did with me that I treasured as a young girl, and it was a memory I wanted my children to have and cherish as well.   Growing up, my parents were not individuals of means and of the two jobs my father worked one was as an usher at The Summit where the circus came at the time in Houston, now it stands as the encompassment of Joel Osteen’s following.  This employment was his favorite as it gave him free access to Rockets games and to me it worked out because he was able to purchase the tickets on the front row at a discounted rate.  He would patrol the aisles and I would sit and watch in wonder but not before having the one-of-a-kind opportunity to sneak behind the scenes and encounter the animals and clowns first hand.

These nostalgic memories of whimsy makes their mission statement ring true:

“make parents heroes for their kids.”

Each and every year this is exactly what the circus does for our family.   It brings us together, it rewards our children, it fosters their wonder and excitement to explore and learn.   They look up to us, and thank us for gifting them with this experience, no matter the costs.   To see their smile and their delight makes them my hero in return, they remind me what raw wonder is.  My childrens’ smiles pull me from chores, bills, and the fleeting life that surrounds me, and they resuscitate me into a dreamlike wonder I had long forgotten.

But Aren’t the Millennials Seeking Experiences Over Things? 

It’s not just for children.  In my adult years I have introduced many to the wonder and merriment that is Ringling Bros.  At the conclusion of the show, just as the lights come on to lose that enchantment and return you back to the empty arena my accompaniment is left in aw and thanked me for convincing them to take in this experience.   Millennials is the largest generation, and as we age with our own families we crave experiences.   We spend so many hours in front of a computer that we want our investments to be tactile, in person, and immersive.

Not shockingly, more than 8 in 10 millennials (82%) attended or participated in a variety of live experiences
in the past year, ranging from parties, concerts, festivals, performing arts and races and themed sports—and more so than other older generations (70%).
But millennials can’t get enough. 72% say they would like to increase their spending on experiences rather than physical things in the next year, pointing
to a move away from materialism and a growing demand for real-life experiences.       -Eventbrite Research

So please, tell me again, why the Greatest Show on Earth couldn’t manage to attract the very demographic that is eager to drop some serious coin on them? Video games you said?

The Final Bow

Despite the fact that this year we needed their magic more than ever, I was not going to go; mostly because it was the Xtreme tour, one my husband and I had just seen here in Huntsville less than two years before and did not find to be anything special.  It was strange to me that they had yet to change the roster, but I assumed for us it was for the best since money was tight this year.  As I drove around town for an errand, I somehow made the fateful error of a wrong turn, driving directly past the circus train, “I want to go to the circus mommy!”

Lil A as a pink tiger at Ringling Bros. Barnum & Baile circus
Birthday girl got front and center for the Pre-Show at Ringling Bros.

I sighed, it was Lil A’s birthday week and I had not planned a party considering our move and a rough year in health had made finances tight and life too complicated.   We went online and found a special of four tickets for half off and we indulged.  I contemplated driving Lil A and Baby K to the circus train itself and taking a picture with them in front of it, and then I shrugged it off as I have the past four years and said, “Next year *Insert youngest at the time child’s name here* will be older by then”.  Of course.

We took in all the stops, purchasing each girl a special souvenir, and allowing Lil A to get her face painted.  I looked at Baby K, who watched her sister with envy and smiled as I thought,

I can’t wait until she is old enough.

Is There Hope For A New Generation?

My favorite part of the show has always been the pre-show; if the entire circus was the cabaret style dance of whimsy I would not be one to complain.    Perhaps there will be a new line of circuses to emerge with the largest player of the game out of the limelight.  Perhaps they could make it intimate and personal?

Whatever the case, at present, I’m in utter mourning, and I’m so incredibly thankful I received the opportunity to share it with my family one last time.

Please share your favorite Circus memories!

A final farewell for Ringling Bros. and their Mission to Inspire Everyday Heroes
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17 thoughts on “End of an Era: Ringling Bros. To Close Its Final Curtain

  1. I hope you find something to replace your family outings, but I equally hope that it isn’t another circus. I have disliked zoos and circuses with animals for as long as I can remember and I’m very glad that animals are effectively banned from circuses here in the UK.


    1. There is plenty to do with my family for “outings”. My father though died when I was still a child, and there were not many opps for happy memories, particularly not with him. Sharing this with my children is like connecting with my father, and a way to connect my father to them. That’s why the circus is not just an “outing” to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hm, I can understand the fun aspect for children and love seeing the excitement and how happy they are. I love children, but I also love and respect animals. I am 100% sure , children would be as happy with just clowns and acrobatics , magicians … I am really happy about the recent law of circus rules in Spain, where I live. No animals in circusses allowed anymore, and now I would love to visit a circus myself. I watch the Circus Festival in Monaco every year on tv, the best acrobats from all over the world get awarded by the Royal Family of Monaco.


  3. I don’t like the circus. Never have. I don’t like their treatment of the animals or of people. I’ve never protested it, just chosen not to go. It’s a personal choice in my opinion. Just as it is to go to a place like Sea World once the information is out there.
    In my opinion, they should’ve focused more on acrobatics (which are amazing, and draw (ex: circ du solei)), or at the very least done more to avoid the high-profile incidents of animal cruelty that turned public opinion against them.


    1. I must agree one hundred percent. This should have been a prompt to drive Ringling to research new quality performances. Perhaps they were so clouded by the negativity they couldn’t see the opportunity it presented?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I remember going to the circus every year with my family. For some reason we stopped going as a family about 1970. I last saw ringling Brothers in Texas about ten years back and thought what a shame they had so few in attendance. The shows had lost their lustre as well. I remember a group of PETA activists that threw red paint onto a few people in the audience before being arrested. It took the fun out of the trip.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, PETA really did a number to the experience. Just a few years back they were badgering us at the gates, shoving their propaganda in our faces. I felt like we were being pestered by the crazies of montrose for some change, but instead it was worse…these were people who really knew better than to be disrupting a family.


  5. It’s sad because it’s another thing from youth gone. Although I must admit I was only taken a few times as a kid and my child only went a few times. It was still one of those iconic things to do like riding the cyclone at Coney Island and eating a frank at Nathan’s when your there (I’m a New Yorker). You may only do it once but you have it on your bucket list to do.

    Liked by 1 person

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