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.
Photos: Marian Carrasquero/NPR