It came as a sad shock in January when Ringling Bros.and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced they were closing down after 146 years! Something akin to the world spinning off it's axis, to my way of thinking.
It also came as a shock when my crotchety old employer asked me to acquire six tickets to one of their last performances in Uniondale, New York. Honestly, I didn't know the old buzzard had any scintilla of sentimentality whatsoever, but apparently he does. I figured he and his guests would stay at the penthouse in Manhattan and take a limo out to Uniondale for the performance. But no, he asked me to book a three-bedroom suite at the Plaza. Which actually makes the whole thing more simple for me. I'll just dump it all in the Concierge's lap at the Plaza and let her take care of the tickets and limo arrangements. (Concierges always have the best tickets anyway, albeit triple/quadruple the cost.)
Nelda, our ancient Teutonic executive housekeeper, told me that as a child he used to stay at the Plaza with his parents when Ringling Brothers came to town, and actually saw the circus under the Big Top. Which would have been before 1957 when Ringling stopped bringing their own tents in favor of setting up in local venues like coliseums, sports stadiums and arenas. Personal memories are from seeing the shows in a coliseum where high wire acts were easily suspended from the rafters above.
But I get it, and understand why he wants to nourish and relive his memories. Ringling has been a part of American culture for almost a century and a half. When they arrived and set up their Big Top, schools would close and there would be a town holiday. Long before there were zoos in American cities, where else could children see exotic animals - lions, tigers, bears, and elephants! Not to mention all the wonderful old films about circus life, plus all the famous stars (like The Flying Wallendas and clowns like Emmett Kelly) who came from that extravaganza.
The cost of sustaining all the performers and maintaining those animals all year round, plus transporting them to a venue is mind boggling to begin with. With the pressures of animal rights activists nowadays (which I fully understand), pulling the elephants from the show was reportedly the last straw and resulted in declining sales. The Greatest Show on Earth had no choice but to shut down.
My thoughts now are with all the performers; what will they do in the future, and where will all the animals go? I suspect the animals will go to zoos, and the performers will stick together and go into retirement at Ringling Brothers' winter home in Florida. Why not? But I guess we'll hear more about this later, hopefully with some memoirs coming forth.
The thing is, Ringling Brothers has been around for over half the lifespan of the United States itself, and it's hard to say goodbye. Although we still have a three-ring circus going on in Washington these days, it's not really the same, is it? And never will be.
If you want to catch one of their last shows, here's a link to their schedule. And as always, thanks for dropping by this evening.