The storied circus act, The Greatest Show on Earth, devised by the American theatre company Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus, came to an end on Sunday in New York, after 146 years. In the video above, the troupe’s clowns, animal acts and acrobats take their final bow. A space-themed balancing act kicked off the penultimate moments of the show, which had thrilled audiences around the US for nearly a century and a half.
Declining ticket price and sales owing to competition from other forms of entertainment proved to be a fatal blow. There was also mounting criticism by animal rights’ groups because of the continued use of tigers, lions, horses, dogs and camels. The company has, however, always maintained that its treatment of animals was humane. For the record, they had previously used 13 Asian elephants, only 40,000 of which remain in the wild.
The circus’ executives told TIME that, more than the backlash, “the circus couldn’t compete with iPhones, the internet, video games and massively branded and carefully marketed characters”.
A fun nugget: the circus is curiously tied to film history. Saving Private Ryan filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s first memory of going to the cinema was Cecile DeMille’s 1952 epic film, The Greatest Show on Earth, which was set in the circus. “I think my fate was probably sealed that day in 1952”, he said, and recounted how a key train-wreck sequence in the film had ignited his passion for cinema. The video below captures the moment.