Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson opens the final show of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Sunday, May 21, 2017, in Uniondale, N.Y. Ringling's circus began its final show Sunday evening after 146 years of wowing audiences with its "Greatest Show on Earth".
Capping a legacy that stretches back to 19th century showman P.T. Barnum, the circus bade adieu at a series of shows this weekend at the newly refurbished Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale on New York's Long Island.
Alexander Lacey and his big cat show were a crowd favourite.
If you aren't able to make it, the last show will be streamed live on the circus's Facebook page.
A century later, Ringling had become the target of animal protection groups that claimed it mistreated its elephants, and the two sides soon locked in a 14-year legal battle so cutthroat that it involved secret informants paid by animal advocacy groups and a former Central Intelligence Agency official who was paid by Ringling's parent company, Feld Entertainment, to gather intel on activists. His parents met at the Ringling circus in 1954 and said the show inspired generations of performers. And in May 2016, the company removed elephants from its shows, but ticket sales continued to decline.
Lions, tigers and clowns, no more.
Ringling's parent company, Feld Entertainment, announced in January that it would close the production, citing declining attendance and high operating costs.
The circus had been butting heads with PETA and other animal rights groups for a while.
"People are not really concerned with wildlife until they feel it and see it and enjoy it", he said, "and love it as much as I do - until they've seen it with their own eyes".
Feld, his voice sometimes shaking, said that in the 50 years that his family had produced the circus, over a quarter-billion people had seen its shows. "I can't go to the circus with my daddy anymore". If you look around the world at other circuses, they are much smaller and many of them have a permanent home. On Saturday, under cloudy skies, fans streamed into the Nassau Coliseum in suburban NY to pay their last respects to the iconic show. Circusgoers lined up to buy snow cones served in elephant-shaped mugs and snag leopard plush toys - one of which Culff bought for seven-month-old Emily.
One commenter remarked: "i remember seeing the Greatest Show on Earth as a little girl with my family".
Earlier Sunday, a group of retired and former circus performers sat across the street at a hotel bar, laughing and hugging and sharing memories of tours past.