|Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson (Ringling Bros.com)|
"We are, forevermore, the Greatest Show on Earth," Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson told the crowd. He was the circus’ first African American ringmaster and has been performing with the troupe since 1999. He son was also a performer. In fact, many of the performers had been second, third and even fourth generation employees of the circus.
In 1871, Entrepreneur P.T. Barnum found his true calling with a venture called “P.T. Barnum's Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan, and Circus: The Greatest Show on Earth.” In 1881, Barnum joined forces with James Bailey and James Hutchinson, and in 1887, the re-branded circus went by the name of “The Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth.” Barnum died on April 7, 1891 and his circus was bought by the rivaling Ringling Brothers in 1907.
In 1967, Irvin Feld bought the circus and the following year created the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College to train new generations the art of clowning. The circus was sold to Mattel in 1971 and then Feld bought it back in 1982. The circus was criticized for its use of animals in its shows and protesters showed up at many of the performances accusing the circus of mistreating them, namely the elephants, though any evidence of such is debatable. However, in an effort to placate protesters, the circus removed the elephants from their acts in May of 2016, but it was also the final nail in coffin for the “greatest show.” Though ticket sells had been declining before, they took a sharp dip when the elephants were gone and Feld made the difficult decision to close the show permanently.