‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ going, going, gone

Teamsters Local 688

Not every fairy tale ends happily ever after. On Jan. 14, Feld Entertainment made the heartbreakingly difficult decision to close their touring units known to all of us as “Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey”.

The circus has been an icon in the live entertainment industry for 146 years, longer than baseball. It doesn’t seem possible that it will soon close the curtain for the last time. For many, this was not just a job but a lifestyle. Having the ability to transport families to a magical, mystical world of thrilling, death defying, knee-slapping, and fun-filled enjoyment. To put smiles on children’s faces and to create laughter is priceless.

As soon as May, this American Treasure will become another memory that we will tuck away only to recall when we tell our grandchildren of our dreamlike adventures at “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

One aspect of the circus that is never visited is its ability to bring together so many different cultures and races in a harmonious environment, the world could take a lesson from Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey.


Whether unloading the flat cars of the train in freezing rain, working in the darkness of the shadows in the arenas or working the long weary hours necessary to make the magic happen, these workers are some of the most loyal and hardworking Teamsters as I have ever met!

Ringling Bros. has two touring units with over 600 show staff and performers who travel and work throughout the United States. While in any city, they contribute to your local economy by purchasing food, clothing and other necessities.  They frequently work with and contribute to multiple charity organizations to provide children and families the opportunity to attend the circus.


There has been much controversy regarding the animal performers over the years, and I want to give my perspective from my personal and direct observations.

Teamsters Local 688 has represented as many as 235 workers at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus for over 50 years, representing virtually every facet of work required to bring “The Greatest Show on Earth” to life in your town, including the elephant handlers. For more than 146 years, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s “Greatest Show on Earth” has been drawing crowds with a one-of-a-kind entertainment experience, and yes, elephants have been an important part of circus history, putting smiles on the faces of millions of children and adults.

As president and business representative of Teamsters Local 688, I have personally represented Ringling Bros. workers for nearly 25 years. I have unannounced and unlimited access to the animal care areas of the show venues.  I spend a great deal of time behind the scenes, with the animal handlers while they are caring for the animal performers, during shows, between shows and on non-show “dark days.” I have never witnessed any mistreatment of any of Ringling Bros. animal performers. Our members live, eat and breathe with the elephants and other animal performers and treat these animals as if they were family members. They are very proud of these animals and would never abuse one. You only need to visit the animal compound to see the affection our members have for these gentle giants and all of these magnificent animal performers.

Providing the highest level of animal protection and care is an important priority for Ringling Bros. Their practices and conditions meet or exceed the standards of the Animal Welfare Act. Workers are required by the Union Contract to attend training sessions for the care and treatment of animals, including all requirements of the Animal Welfare Act and all related regulations. Full-time Circus Staff provide daily grooming, dietary, exercise and veterinary needs for all of the animals. Training methods are based on positive reinforcement, including food rewards and words of praise. Verbal or physical abuse is not tolerated.

Ringling Bros. is committed to providing elephants with a lifetime of care, even after they are no longer performing, through a Center for Elephant Conservation. The Center provides wilderness and veterinary care for elephants in their golden years.

All circuses are required by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to have an exhibitor’s license.  USDA conducts regular unannounced inspections of performing animals and their stable areas, and their inspection reports are a matter of public record. All circuses and other animal exhibitors are also subject to state and local animal cruelty laws and all permit requirements while in each venue. Such regulations provide protection to all performing animals and allow for the prosecution of those who neglect or mistreat the animals in their care.  To my knowledge, Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey has always been more than cooperative and has always met or exceeded all regulations and requirements.


So, as this great American tradition draws to a close and fades to the place where steam locomotive whistles in the night, grandpas playing checkers on the front porch, walking to your favorite fishing hole on dirt roads, the smell of grandma’s cooking and many other Norman Rockwell images drifts to, I want all of my Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey family to know… from the bottom of my heart… it has been a hell of a party… I will see you down the road!



  • They were definitely an institution in your business Jim. We saw this on TV but thanks for sharing this.

  • Hats off to you all for your loyal service and support of the circus. As a circus fan and one who studied the circus animals and the circus closely I had occasion to meet some of you on the road and at various hearings where we would stand in support of the circus, performing animals and their handlers, and the rights of circus fans to include animals in their lives. Thank you!

  • We saw the circus in the next to last performance in Miami last January. It had been many years since I last attended, back when my sons were kids (my youngest is now 63, and I am almost 89). I also remember being at the performance when I was a kid on the night Gargantua died. We saw him in his air conditioned wagon as we entered the show, but the wagon’s windows were covered with canvas as we left, and we saw the Miami Herald’s headline the next morning “Gargantua Dead.” The Greatest Show on Earth will be missed.


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