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Mar 17

The End of the Circus

Posted by: Steve Marr

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After 140 years the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus has closed. When I lived in Detroit and the circus came to town, it was a big deal. Many made plans to go and see the extravaganza.  Those who went would remember the elephants, flying trapeze artists, lion tamers and clowns. We would try to talk our parents into letting us have cotton candy. The whole experience was exciting. If you want to get a sense of what the circus was watch the 1952 movie, “The Greatest Show on Earth.”


I also have memories of the circus because my grandparents lived in Florida near the winter headquarters of the Ringling Bros. Circus where you could tour their facility.  There you could see the animals and watch the artists practice for the next season. Now, the circus is another victim to modern entertainment.

The circus has been undergoing a slow and agonizing death for many years. The cost of paying staff and performers increased as well as animal upkeep, while fewer patrons came to the shows.

King Solomon wrote, “Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds; for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations.” (Proverbs 27:23-24, NIV) For over a hundred years the circus was a cash cow. However, over time these increased expenses along with competition from video games, theme parks, and other activities have taken customers in different directions.

I read over the last several years about the decision to eliminate elephants from the circus as a cost-saving move.  But what’s the circus without elephants and clowns? A number of years ago I met a retired clown from the Ringling Circus. He lamented the loss of the professional performers. He said he was a clown for nearly 40 years. In that time he perfected his craft as did other circus performers.  While the twenty-something clown who replaced the 40 year veteran did his best, he simply didn’t have the years it took to hone his skills to a high level.

Most of us won’t particularly miss the circus. I haven’t gone in years.  The reminder for us is to pay attention to every long-standing business forced to close.  Part of our job is to make sure we don’t become one of those businesses as well.

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