The news this weekend that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey was closing its doors should not have surprised us. After years of battling public perception over elephant treatment, the circus decided to take the elephants off the road last year and retire them to a sanctuary in Florida, where they will help in research to fight pediatric cancer.
This news came at the same time another circus was in town — the Shrine Circus, with elephants galore, at H-E-B Center.
Whether you were pro animals in the circus or against them, pro clown or anti clown, there was something magical about the circus.
For many families, it’s part of generation after generation of shared experience. I can remember the first time I took my kids to a circus, just as my parents remember the first time they took me and I remember that first time I went with them. And my parents remember when their parents went and their parents, if they were still alive, have memories of going as kids as well.
When the circus came to town, it was a big family treat — something that didn’t happen all the time, something your parents saved up for.
If you were lucky (and your parents could afford it), you might get to sit on top of an elephant before the show began. Maybe you got some peanuts. Maybe you got some cotton candy. But most of the time, you laughed a lot, you oohed and ahhed a lot, and you talked about it on the car ride home as well as years later.
It was a milestone in our childhood.
And so, what is a new generation left with? What will my kids remember going to when they take their children to?
Maybe Disney on Ice or a Sesame Street Live show, but those shows price a lot of families out. Maybe a movie, maybe a “The Nutcracker.”
Or maybe, their world will be so filled with virtual reality that they won’t ever feel the need to go home and see live entertainment.
I understand why the circus had to change and then ultimately close, but I do grieve for my future grandchildren who might not ever get the thrill of the ring master welcoming them to “The Greatest Show on Earth.”