We went to the circus last week. Likely for the last time…
…Man, I hope I’m wrong about that.
After 133 years, Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus is packing its tents. That’s profoundly sad for a guy whose son is named after P.T. Barnum.
Barnum was a man who made wonders. More specifically, he made you wonder. You knew his oddities couldn’t possibly be true, right? But still, what if…
What if the Fiji Mermaid was real? Or the Cardiff Giant? Or Jenny Lind really was the greatest singer in the world even though you had never heard of her?
He was The Greatest Showman on Earth and he could make you question everything. He was never in it to trick you. He just wanted to make you wonder. He believed his cast’s stories were genuine. Because if he believed, he could make you believe. He could conscionably tell their stories with confidence. And you never left a show feeling like you’d been had.
Barnum collected wonders. He had a menagerie of oddities and he was kind to his staff—never exploiting them. Only showcasing their talents for as long as they wanted him to. They were his family. They were his friends. He never showed anyone against their will.
I am an animal lover. I support and donate to animal charities and have 2 rescue dogs. I understand PETA and I know circus animals have been mistreated. I don’t hold ill will toward activists for pressuring Ringling Bros. to remove the elephants—the straw which broke the proverbial camel’s back for ticket sales. But I was sad to see them go.
Call me naive, but I believe the majority of the circus love what they do and the animals they work with. And while I have no doubt that abuses have occurred, I don’t believe they are a frequent manifestation on today’s tour.
Depending on your age, you may be thinking about that unicorn. It’s worth noting that Ringling Bros. purchased Lancelot. Did genetic manipulation occur? Almost definitely. But not by the circus. They gave him a good run, a happy home and better care than he had on his previous renaissance fair circuit.
Would the animals would be happier in their natural habitat? Of course. You can say the same about zoo creatures. But I also know the joy they bring people—and me. And I know people who have worked with animals and truly loved them. Plus, there’s no guarantee they’ll go to their natural habitat. Or be taken care of as well as they are now. So you can argue either way.
I’ll miss the circus. It’s been an institution for generations and I’ve never left feeling like I’ve witnessed an atrocity. I always felt I saw incredibly talented performers at the peak of their career, loving the joy they bring to the crowd.
Last year, we took a picture with a clown.
When we saw him again this year, Finn (short for Phineas Taylor, P.T. Barnum’s full name) recognized him immediately. He asked me to open the photo on my phone and ran over to show him. The clown smiled as big as the paint on his face. He hugged my son, told him it was great to see him again, and we took another photo.
You can’t tell me that clown isn’t sad we can’t do it again next year.