They traveled by rail, all across America. They set up their tents, did their shows, and moved on. Trapeze artists. Tight rope walkers. Clowns. Lion tamers. Elephants.
Every child knew what a circus was.
It was a cliché that every child wanted to run away from home and join the circus.
Circuses were so much a part of our cultural fabric that they made movies about them: The Greatest Show on Earth. Roustabout. Under the Big Top. Water for Elephants.
One of my favorite singers, Mickey Dolenz, got his start in a TV show called Circus Boy.
The life of P.T. Barnum became a Broadway musical.
But no longer.
Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus has announced that it is closing up shop. The last shows will be performed in May, right here on Long Island, at the Nassau Coliseum. After that, you'll have to get your circus fix at the Ringling Brothers museum in Florida, or the Barnum museum in Connecticut.
Blame it on the elephants.
I mean, the elephants were the trademark of Ringling Brothers. When the show came to NYC every year, the trains would head for a rail yard in Queens, and the elephants would march into Manhattan, to Madison Square Garden, through the Midtown Tunnel.
And then ....PETA.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
They claimed the elephants were being abused. Even went to court to try to prove it.
Perhaps they were right, or perhaps they were traumatized by Disney's Dumbo. They convinced a lot of people that the elephants should not be part of the circus. And eventually Feld Entertainment, the owner of Ringling Brothers, agreed. The elephants would be retired, the show would go on without them.
And ticket sales fell. So Ringling Brothers is going out of business.
But wait, don't we have other, smaller circuses?
What about Cole Brothers-Clyde Beatty Circus?
Nope. They were also targeted by PETA, they canceled their 2016 tour.
Well, we still have the Big Apple Circus, right? They don't use elephants in their show, they manage to bring in the crowds without elephants.
No, sadly, the Big Apple Circus filed for bankruptcy last year, there's an auction on February 7 to sell off the props and equipment.
I guess it's not just the elephants, our tastes in entertainment have changed.
I believe there are still a few small circuses travelling about, but their days are numbered.
I'll close out with a salute to P.T. Barnum, whose name is synonymous with "circus":
life in and around NYC is insane
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