Ringling Bros. ringmasters saddened by circus shutting down

Curtain lowers on 146-year-old 'Greatest Show on Earth'

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus is in town for the last time, marking the end of its 146-year tradition.

Top executives said they were forced to end the shows because of high operating costs and declining ticket sales. It was also a huge target for animal rights activists. Just last year, the circus ended its use of elephants after heavy pressure from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Two ringmasters spoke to News4Jax Wednesday about what's next for the hundreds of performers and animals involved.

The ringmasters said many of the 400 performers and crew members are working with other entertainment companies, like Cirque du Soleil, to find other jobs. They said the performers are like family, and it's been a difficult time.

For the first female ringmaster, Kristen Michelle Wilson, the experience was "such a dream come true." But her dream is already coming to an end, after the announcement that the circus is taking down the big top for good.

"All of us were surprised and we were sad about it,” Wilson said. “This is an American institution that goes back 146 years."

The first African-American ringmaster, Johnathan Iverson, said he can't believe it happened so soon.

"I did see it coming,” Iverson said. “I saw it coming a little later, and I saw it coming after the exit of the elephants."

Executives said they saw a dramatic drop in ticket sales after dropping elephants from the show, and the high operating costs were unsustainable.

Iverson, who is a 17-year veteran with the circus, said his major concern is for the fans.

"I'm really sad because so many generations won't know the wonderment and the magic of what was Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey, the greatest show on earth," Iverson said.

As for the animals, Ringling Brothers' CEO assured they will be placed in suitable homes.

Currently, there are two traveling shows.

The Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus will be in Jacksonville Jan. 19-22. Click here for tickets and show times.