They stood 10 deep in lines to buy tickets to witness the end of an era at the last Orlando performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
Many said they changed their plans on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and headed to the Amway Center after hearing that the circus was ending its 146-year run.
Ringling’s demise was blamed on declining ticket sales, high operating costs, along with changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups that claimed the circus abused its animals.
Katie Robinson drove from Port St. Lucie with her five daughters, who range in age from 6 to 16, to see the show.
“This is a huge loss for the American public and a tragedy that such a pure form of entertainment will soon be gone,” said Robinson, who worked as an aerialist and rode the elephants for the Hanneford Family Circus in Fort Lauderdale.
Robinson said during her eight years with the circus, she never saw any animal abuse and felt that the trainers treated the animals with loving care.
“The allegations are just ridiculous,” she said.
Ringling owner, Feld Entertainment, announced Saturday that their two traveling circuses would end their 30-show tour May 21. Monday was the last day of a five-day run in Orlando.
Four representatives of the Animals Rights Foundation of Florida stood across the street from the Amway Center and urged people to go to circuses.com to watch videos of animal abuse. The website is sponsored by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), a vocal opponent of Ringling.
“I’m out here for every animal that ever felt the sting of a whip or been beaten by a bull hook,” said Carla Wilson, who added that she has been protesting at Ringling events for 20 years.
Another animal rights advocate said she came to celebrate the end of the Ringling circus.
“Animals belong in the wild,” said Patti Boyle. “They were not born to entertain people. You never see elephants wearing tutus and walking on their back feet in the wild.”
Ringling removed elephants from its shows last May, following a 14-year legal battle with PETA and The Human Society of the United States. The animals had been the symbol of the circus since P.T. Barnum brought an Asian elephant named Jumbo to America in 1882.
The show dates back to the late 1800s, when P.T. Barnum partnered with ringmaster James A. Bailey to produce a traveling show of animals and human oddities. The show merged with five brothers from the Ringling family who performed skits and juggling routines. The circus spent decades traveling by train, transporting hundreds of animals, performers and big-top tents to cities throughout the United States.
The family-owned Feld Entertainment bought the circus in 1967.
Despite the controversy, Donna Allen said she wanted to show the next generation a piece of what will soon be history.
“I grew up watching the Ringling Bros. circus and wanted my grandsons to experience it,” said Allen, who brought her daughter and her two sons, ages 1 and 3. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the last show.”