The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has been entertaining audiences for a long time. Its history goes back 146 years — to about the time when professional baseball emerged and before Coca-Cola was invented.
But this substantial chapter in American history comes to a close on Sunday. After years of declining ticket sales and seemingly endless conflicts with animal rights groups, Ringling Bros. will stage its final show in Uniondale, N.Y.
Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson is one of hundreds of Ringling performers and crew members with extraordinary talents who will be out of a job come Monday. Recruited fresh out of college, where he’d been studying voice performance and training to be a professional opera singer, he became Ringling’s first African-American ringmaster in 1998.
“Ironically enough, I will be the very last voice in the 146-year history of this show, so I will be the last person you hear to speak of ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ — which is a wild little paradox, to be a first and a last at the same time. I don’t know too many people who can say that, in any industry,” he says.
Barnum & Bailey Circus press photo. Most likely taken around 1916.
George Auger (Born December 21, 1881 - Died November 30, 1922) stood 7’ 5" tall and was also known as The Cardiff Giant. Tom Sordie, who was possibly also known as Paul Horompo and/or Paul Horvath, stood 29" tall.
laughter, hugs and tears — and the requisite death-defying stunts — the
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus received its final
standing ovation Sunday night as it performed its last show.
are, forevermore, the Greatest Show on Earth,” boomed Johnathan Lee
Iverson, who has been the ringmaster since 1999. His son, who also
performed, stood by his side. The show was held at the Nassau County
Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) east of
New York City.
was an emotional 2 ½ hours for those who worked on the circus. Many
of Ringling’s employees are second, third and even fourth-generation
circus performers, while others met their spouses while touring. All
spent months on the road, traveling from city to city in Ringling’s
train cars and describing themselves as a giant family, albeit one with
(Photos: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images, Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images, Lucas Jackson /Reuters, Julie Jacobson/AP, Lucas Jackson /Reuters, Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
In about 1973, Peter Hujar went backstage at the Barnum and Bailey Circus and took portraits of the performers, including clowns, ringmasters, and the legendary animal tamer and clown “Swede” Johnson at the upper right.