Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has announced this month that it is closing down its show for good in May of 2017, marking the end of an era. Even after winning a 14-year-long legal battle over allegations their elephants were mis-treated, many factors such as loss of public interest and high operating costs contributed to the decision. Standby Traveling Mom and friends reflect on memories of attending the Greatest Show on Earth for the last time.

Saying Goodbye to the Greatest Show on Earth!

Elephants perform at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Photo credit: Chris Bird, Standby Traveling Mom.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Closing for Good

I always knew it was only a matter of time. And yet, a few weeks ago I heard the news that the “Greatest Show on Earth” was finally closing its curtains for good after 146 years. It still came as quite a shock.

After all, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus had just announced earlier in the week that they had hired their first-ever female Ring Master. She will also now be their last. A last-ditch effort at remaining relevant to a new generation of young families who have many more forms of entertainment vying for their attention than generations before.

For those of us who remember a time before cell phones, YouTube and Pokemon, the circus coming to town was something not to be missed. I have very fond memories of attending my first Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus in California when I was maybe all of five or six-years-old. The costumes, acrobats, clowns and elephants… even the peanuts and popcorn stand out in my mind. I couldn’t wait to share the same experience with my little girl, knowing it would stay with her forever.

Taking Our Daughter to the Circus for the First Time

Saying Goodbye to the Greatest Show on Earth!

My then two-year-old daughter, Reagan at the Pre-Show Clown College. Photo credit: Chris Bird, Standby Traveling Mom.

At two-years-old, we brought Reagan to see Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus: Zing Zang Zoom in Denver, where she [sadly] spent more time climbing the seats than watching the show. Even attending the Pre-Show Clown College where she got to dress up in real clown costumes did not thrill her as you can judge from her reaction. Two-years-old was definitely too soon for our toddler to visit the Greatest Show on Earth.


At three, we tried again with Funundrum. Once again, we came early for the All-Access Pre-Show to try on clown costumes, see the performers up-close and watch an elephant paint a picture. We also visited the Animal Open House before the show to see the animals up close.

During the show, Reagan sat in the front row and never once took her eyes off the 3-ring circus. Finally. Success. I hope we were able to create a memory for her for all time. I am glad she can say she saw the Greatest Show on Earth before it was gone.

Circus Memories of the Greatest Show on Earth

I asked my friends to share their circus memories and thoughts about the show’s closing. Here is what some of them had to say…

“I’m sad to see it go. Went many times in Seattle when I was little, either with my parents or Girl Scout troop. Last time I went was in Phoenix in the 90’s. Was hoping to take my four-year-old granddaughter this year, but I guess that’s one more thing from our childhood that is gone. I was already bummed the elephant’s were gone – they were always my favorite.” – Jennifer Sinyard, WV

“I remember going once in Anaheim when we lived there. I was probably five or six – not sure. Anyway I loved the whole thing. It was so exciting! The one thing that stands out was the motorcycle rider in the spherical cage. It was so cool and that memory has really stuck with me. I was always in awe of the trapeze artists and elephants.” – Stacey Landoni, AZ

“I’m so grateful my kids had the chance to go. I’ll never forget the look of wonder in my son’s eyes as he marveled at the spectacle before him. Sheer magic.” – Amber Johnson, UT

“My family lived in Sarasota, FL, the winter home of the circus, and loved watching the trains roll back in town. John and Mabel Ringling left their beautiful bay front mansion to the State of Florida, which now includes an amazing Circus Museum full of memorabilia. The cultural landscape of Sarasota includes many circus influences and growing up in this community was a treasure. Locals knew where circus families lived and trained and would often times bring a lunch to watch them practice trapeze and aerial acts.” – Lisa-Marie Leihy, FL

Saying Goodbye to the Greatest Show on Earth!

Animal Open House. Photo credit: Chris Bird, Standby Traveling Mom.

It’s Not too Late to See the Greatest Show on Earth!

The elephants have all retired to a conservation farm in Central Florida where they are being well taken care of. But the show does still go on until May of 2017. Check here to see if the circus is coming to a town near you soon.

What are your favorite memories of first seeing the circus and/or taking your kids?