Shared from the 2017-05-22 Chattanooga eEdition

Ringling Bros. circus goes out with a roar

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VINCENT TULLO/THE NEW YORK TIMES

An animal trainer performs with lions and tigers during the final performance of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus Sunday in Uniondale, N.Y.

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The lights went up on the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus Sunday evening to reveal 14 lions and tigers sitting in a circle, surrounding a man in a sparkling suit. It was a sight too implausible to seem real yet such an iconic piece of Americana that it was impossible to believe the show would not go on.

After 146 years, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey is closing for good, responding to a prolonged slump in ticket sales that has rendered the business unsustainable, according to its operator, Feld Entertainment. On Sunday, the circus glittered, thundered and awed beneath the booms and klieg lights of Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Autumn Luciano stood outside, ticket in hand. “It feels a little like a funeral today, but I’m trying not to mourn it in a sad way,” said Luciano, 33, a pinup photographer who had flown in from Lansing, Mich., to see the last show. “Circus is all about being happy.”

She pulled up her sleeve to reveal a tattoo of a circus tent on her wrist. Without circuses, “we lose the ability to go and see that humans can do anything,” she said. “You go to the circus and see human beings doing insane things, but the truth is, we all have the ability to do crazy things.”

This circus began in 1871 as P.T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome, and Feld bought it in 1967. After the removal of elephants from the performance last year after fierce and prolonged condemnation from animal rights groups, already-falling ticket sales dropped even further. The circus — with its 500-person crew, 100 animals and mile-long trains — had become infeasible in an age in which video games and cellphone screens compete to provide childhood magic.

When the ringmaster, Johnathan Lee Iverson, first saw the circus as a 9-yearold at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, he could have sworn the spangled horses that galloped there were real unicorns. At 41, after nearly two decades with Ringling Bros., he has an awe in his voice when he speaks of the place that suggests his certainty endures. He said the world is losing “a place of wonder.”

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