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Looking Back at the Ringling Bros. Circus’ 146-Year Run

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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)
Visitors heading to the big top to see ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’ performance from the Ringling Bros, Barnum & Bailey circus in 1950. (Keystone/FPG/Hulton Archive/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.

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Clown Lou Jacobs poses for a photo with circus-goer Danny Lee on April 20, 1941. (NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
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Lulu the clown 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. (AP Images)
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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. (AP Photo)
Ringling Bros. circus performers showcasing under the big top. (Jerry Cooke/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
Ringling Bros. circus performers showcasing under the big top. (Jerry Cooke/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
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A band of performing chimpanzees sound off in Madison Square Garden in New York on March 30, 1959. (Harvey Lippman/AP Photo)
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Ornamented with lavish designs the grand procession wagons of Alice’s wonderland moves across the sawdust arena in New York on April 11, 1945. (Ed Ford/AP Photo)
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A manager sits in a trailer at the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus on October 10, 1978. (Dave Buresh/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
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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. (Harvey Lippman/AP Photo)
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Fred Johnson puts the final touches on huge circus museum banners in Wisconsin on July 14, 1959. (Edward Kitch/AP Photo)
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A large elephant, a performer in the Ringling Bros, Barnum & Bailey Circus lumbers out of a boxcar to announce the arrival of the circus. (Duane Howell/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
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Marilyn Monroe makes a guest appearance with an elephant, circa 1955 (Ullstein Bild via Getty Images)
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A tall clown waits backstage to entertain the audience during Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
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Circus bear ‘Fritz’ pedals his ‘high strung’ bicycle around at the opening of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden, April 5, 1939. (Tom Sande/AP Photo)
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The Wallenda Family, famed for their hire wire act, doing their aerial bicycle act of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, April 4, 1945 (Matty Zimmerman/AP Photo)
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Two clowns and a showgirl pose outside the tent during Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
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A group of acrobats from Ringling Brothers circus perform with a leopard during a show in New York City. (Keystone-FranceGamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
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A circus performer hangs upside down during a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performance on March 19, 2015. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)
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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. (Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

RealClearLife Staff