Visitors heading to the big top to see 'The Greatest Show On Earth' performance from the Ringling Bros, Barnum & Bailey circus in1950. (Keystone/FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
(NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) 4/4/1939-New York, NY: When Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus opewns at Madison Square Garden, NY, Wednesday night, Lulu, 35-year old Englishwoman, the only woman clown in the world, will be one of the main attractions. Lulu is shown here in her dressing room as she made up for her role in "the greatest show on earth." A few dabs on the nose completes the makeup. Complete Caption in Negative Sleeve.
(Original Caption) New York: Quick Lunch. Local schoolboys register awe and amazement as they watch Mrs. Estelline Pike swallow a sword at Madison Square Garden in New York, where she is performing with the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus. She says: "The trick to sword swallowing is to be completely relaxed. You have to relax to control your throat and your emotions." Fast as you might stick a pin into a cushion, the 53-year-old Mrs. Pike can slide a 22-inch sword down her throat. Her throat is so "educated" that it doesn't gag when she comes to the climax of her act--gulping six swords at once. A widow and a grandmother, Mrs. Pike has been slipping swords down her throat for 33 years now, and she isn't about to retire.
Ringling Bros. circus performers showcasing under the big top. (Jerry Cooke/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus are going through their entertaining, amusing, and sometimes hair-raising stunts, as a band of performing chimpanzees sound off in Madison Square Garden in New York on March 30, 1959. (AP Photo/Harvey Lippman)
Ornamented with lavish designs the grand procession wagons of Alice's wonderland moves across the sawdust arena in New York on April 11, 1945. (AP Photo/Ed Ford)
OCT 5 1979, OCT 9 1979; Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus; (Photo By Dave Buresh/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
A Bengal tiger jumps through a flaming hoop as Hans Naumann puts his animals through their paces at the circus in New York on April 4, 1960. (AP Photo/Harvey Lippman)
Fred Johnson, 67, a banner artist of the old school, puts the final touches to huge banners on July 14, 1959 to be used in the new circus museum being installed at Baraboo, Wis. where the John Ringling Bros., circus began. Johnson still plys his art with a Chicago tent and awning firm. He began painting circus banners in 1909. (AP Photo/Edward Kitch)
SEP 30 1977, OCT 5 1977, FEB 27 1979, MAR 1979; Traditional "Animal Walk" Circus Parade Draws Spectators; A large elephant, a performer in the Ringling Bros, and Barnum & Bailey Circus lumbers out of a boxcar Wednesday to announce the arrival of the circus. The elephant is directed by Ringling's famous animal trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams. The one-mile animal parade from the rail yards at Race St. and Race Court to the Coliseum is the traditional start of the circus. The circus opens Thursday for performances through Oct. 16.; (Photo By Duane Howell/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) Marilyn Monroe,Marilyn Monroe (*01.06.1926-05.08.1962+) , Schauspielerin, USA, Gastauftritt mit einem Elefanten im, Zirkus Ringling Bros., Barnum and Bailey, - 30.03.1955 (Photo by ullstein bild via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 7,1948: A tall clown waits backstage to entertain the audience during Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in New York, New York. (Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Circus bear "Fritz" seems none too pleased with his predicament as he pedals his "high strung" bicycle around at the opening of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden, New York, April 5, 1939. (AP Photo/Tom Sande)
The Wallenda Family, famed for their hire wire act, doing their aerial bicycle act of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, present a festive dress rehearsal in New York on April 4, 1945, before starting its 47-day stay at Madison Square Garden. (AP Photo/Matty Zimmerman)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 7,1948: Two clowns and a showgirl pose outside the tent during Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in New York, New York. (Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NON DATE: Num?ro du cirque Ringling brothers avec des femmes acrobates et un l?opard, ? New York city. (Photo by Keystone-FranceGamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
A circus performer hangs upside down during a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performance in Washington, DC on March 19, 2015. Across America through the decades, children of all ages delighted in the arrival of the circus, with its retinue of clowns, acrobats and, most especially, elephants. But, bowing to criticism from animal rights groups, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced on March 5, 2015, it will phase out use of their emblematic Indian stars. AFP PHOTO/ ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS (Photo credit should read Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MARCH 23: Famous clown Bello Nock waves atop an elephant from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus as they emerge from the Midtown Tunnel March 23, 2005 in New York. The elephants, walked through the tunnel into New York and made their way to Madison Square Garden despite a throng of animal rights protesters, who argue that circus elephants are mistreated. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)
The big top is finally coming down for good. After nearly 150 years, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will close up shop, announcing recently that it will hold its final show in May.
An iconic staple of American entertainment since 1884, the Ringling Bros. Circus dazzled audiences with high-flying acrobatics, exotic animals, and of course, those memorable clowns. The classic show had been struggling as of late, due to growing concerns about its treatment of animals, as well as the fact that today’s children aren’t as interested in circuses as they once were. High costs and low tickets sales made the circus an unsustainable business, the owner of Ringling Bros. said in a statement. Before its final curtain call, the circus will perform 30 shows across the United States.
During its 146-year run, the circus was a captivating, family friendly escape from the troubles of the real world, making it a popular destination for many people during turbulent times. In the photos below, take a trip through the circus’ fabled history—and enjoy it one last time.