APNewsBreak: Ringling Bros. circus to close after 146 years

Published: Saturday, January 14, 2017 @ 10:11 PM
Updated: Saturday, January 14, 2017 @ 10:10 PM

After 146 years, the curtain is coming down on "The Greatest Show on Earth." The owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus told The Associated Press that the show will close forever in May.

The iconic American spectacle was felled by a variety of factors, company executives say. Declining attendance combined with high operating costs, along with changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups all contributed to its demise.

"There isn't any one thing," said Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment. "This has been a very difficult decision for me and for the entire family."

The company broke the news to circus employees Saturday night after shows in Orlando and Miami.

Ringling Bros. has two touring circuses this season and will perform 30 shows between now and May. Major stops include Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston and Brooklyn. The final shows will be in Providence, Rhode Island, on May 7 and in Uniondale, New York, at the Nassau County Coliseum on May 21.

The circus, with its exotic animals, flashy costumes and death-defying acrobats, has been a staple of entertainment in the United States since the mid-1800s. Phineas Taylor Barnum made a traveling spectacle of animals and human oddities popular, while the five Ringling brothers performed juggling acts and skits from their home base in Wisconsin. Eventually, they merged and the modern circus was born. The sprawling troupes traveled around America by train, wowing audiences with the sheer scale of entertainment and exotic animals.

By midcentury, the circus was routine, wholesome family entertainment. But as the 20th century went on, kids became less and less enthralled. Movies, television, video games and the internet captured young minds. The circus didn't have savvy product merchandising tie-ins or Saturday morning cartoons to shore up its image.

"The competitor in many ways is time," said Feld, adding that transporting the show by rail and other circus quirks — such as providing a traveling school for performers' children— are throwbacks to another era. "It's a different model that we can't see how it works in today's world to justify and maintain an affordable ticket price. So you've got all these things working against it."

The Feld family bought the Ringling circus in 1967. The show was just under 3 hours then. Today, the show is 2 hours and 7 minutes, with the longest segment — a tiger act — clocking in at 12 minutes.

"Try getting a 3- or 4-year-old today to sit for 12 minutes," he said.

Feld and his daughter Juliette Feld, who is the company's chief operating officer, acknowledged another reality that led to the closing, and it was the one thing that initially drew millions to the show: the animals. Ringling has been targeted by activists who say forcing animals to perform is cruel and unnecessary.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a longtime opponent of the circus, wasted no time in claiming victory.

"After 36 years of PETA protests, which have awoken the world to the plight of animals in captivity, PETA heralds the end of what has been the saddest show on earth for wild animals, and asks all other animal circuses to follow suit, as this is a sign of changing times," Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, wrote in a statement.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, acknowledged the move was "bittersweet" for the Felds but said: "I applaud their decision to move away from an institution grounded on inherently inhumane wild animal acts."

In May of 2016, after a long and costly legal battle, the company removed the elephants from the shows and sent the animals to live on a conservation farm in Central Florida. The animals had been the symbol of the circus since Barnum brought an Asian elephant named Jumbo to America in 1882. In 2014, Feld Entertainment won $25.2 million in settlements from groups including the Humane Society of the United States, ending a 14-year fight over allegations that circus employees mistreated elephants.

By the time the elephants were removed, public opinion had shifted somewhat. Los Angeles prohibited the use of bull-hooks by elephant trainers and handlers, as did Oakland, California. The city of Asheville, North Carolina nixed wild or exotic animals from performing in the municipally owned, 7,600-seat U.S. Cellular Center.

Attendance has been dropping for 10 years, said Juliette Feld, but when the elephants left, there was a "dramatic drop" in ticket sales. Paradoxically, while many said they didn't want big animals to perform in circuses, many others refused to attend a circus without them.

"We know now that one of the major reasons people came to Ringling Bros. was getting to see elephants," she said. "We stand by that decision. We know it was the right decision. This was what audiences wanted to see and it definitely played a major role."

The Felds say their existing animals — lions, tigers, camels, donkeys, alpacas, kangaroos and llamas — will go to suitable homes. Juliette Feld says the company will continue operating the Center for Elephant Conservation.

Some 500 people perform and work on both touring shows. A handful will be placed in positions with the company's other, profitable shows — it owns Monster Jam, Disney on Ice and Marvel Live, among other things — but most will be out of a job. Juliette Feld said the company will help employees with job placement and resumes. In some cases where a circus employee lives on the tour rail car (the circus travels by train), the company will also help with housing relocation.

Kenneth Feld became visibly emotional while discussing the decision with a reporter. He said over the next four months, fans will be able to say goodbye at the remaining shows.

In recent years, Ringling Bros. tried to remain relevant, hiring its first African American ringmaster, then its first female ringmaster, and also launching an interactive app. It added elements from its other, popular shows, such as motorbike daredevils and ice skaters. But it seemingly was no match for Pokemon Go and a generation of kids who desire familiar brands and YouTube celebrities.

"We tried all these different things to see what would work, and supported it with a lot of funding as well, and we weren't successful in finding the solution," said Kenneth Feld.

Kate Middleton debuts tiny baby bump in first public outing since pregnancy announcement

Published: Wednesday, October 11, 2017 @ 6:39 AM

Third Child Coming for Prince William, Kate Middleton

Duchess Catherine made her first public appearance since announcing her third pregnancy in honor of World Mental Health Day alongside Prince Harry and Prince William on Tuesday.

>> Prince Harry and Meghan Markle: A relationship timeline

The duchess wore a blue frock and black heels as she attended a reception at St. James Palace, her tiny baby bump on display. The reception marks the first time Catherine has been seen in public since announcing her pregnancy in early September.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - OCTOBER 10: Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge support World Mental Health Day at Buckingham Palace on 10, October 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Heathcliff O'Malley - WPA Pool/Getty Images)(WPA Pool/Getty Images)

>> PHOTOS: Meghan Markle through the years

The mother of two suffers from hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe form of morning sickness in her pregnancies, and it forced her to miss several engagements, including Prince George’s first day of school.

“The duchess’ condition is improving but she’s still suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum,” a royal aide told E! News. “She’s delighted to be here tonight.”

>> On Rare.us: Duchess Catherine has a new secret weapon to help aid against morning sickness

She is reportedly less than 12 weeks into her pregnancy.

The royals celebrated the impact of their Heads Together Charity that encourages people to speak out about their struggles with mental health.

Prince William reportedly spoke about how “proud” he was to be involved and credited his wife for coming up with the idea.

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“It was Catherine who first realized that all three of us were working on mental health in our individual areas of focus,” he said. “She had seen that at the core of adult issues like addiction and family breakdown, unresolved childhood mental health issues were often part of the problem.”

Man accused of ‘marrying’ 11-year-old stepdaughter, holding her captive for 19 years

Published: Monday, October 16, 2017 @ 5:18 PM

Man Accused Of ‘Marrying’ 11-Year-Old Stepdaughter, Holding Her Captive For 19 Years

An Oklahoma man was arrested in Mexico earlier this month amid allegations that he “married” his 11-year-old stepdaughter in a van, abducted her and kept her captive as his “wife” for nearly 20 years. 

Henri Michele Piette, 62, is charged with first-degree rape, two counts of lewd molestation and child abuse by injury, according to Oklahoma court records. He was taken into custody Oct. 5 in Mexico, where he lived with the victim and their children for years after her alleged abduction. 

The Oklahoman reported that the now 33-year-old victim, Rosalynn Michelle McGinnis, is speaking out about her ordeal since returning to the United States. Court records show that McGinnis escaped captivity last year with eight of her nine children and found her way to a U.S. Embassy in Mexico, where she received help. 

Her oldest child, a boy, had already run away from the remote village in which they lived. McGinnis told People magazine in August that she has since been reunited with her son. 

Piette was still at large and under investigation by federal investigators when McGinnis first detailed her ordeal and subsequent escape. 

“I knew that if I didn’t get out of there, I’d either go insane or I would end up dying and leaving my kids with that man,” McGinnis told the magazine.

She alleged in her interview that she was raped, beaten, stabbed, choked and shot during her captivity.  

Piette, who has since been returned to Wagoner County for prosecution, told Fox23 News in Tulsa last week that he’s innocent. 

“Most of it are lies,” he told the news station as he shuffled into a courtroom for a hearing, surrounded by deputies. “Ninety-nine percent are lies. I’m telling the truth.”

He also denied raping McGinnis.

“I never raped any children. I made love to my wife,” Piette said. “We were married.”

McGinnis told investigators that Piette first raped her at the age of 11 at their home in Wagoner, the Oklahoman reported. He later “married” her in the back of a van, giving her a ring.

Piette’s son told FBI investigators in January that he performed the “ceremony” for his father. The son was 15 at the time.

McGinnis told People that her “marriage” to Piette took place the day before he legally married her mother. 

McGinnis’ mother later left Piette because of abuse in the home, the Oklahoman said. She and her daughter were living at a woman’s shelter in Poteau, about 100 miles southeast of Wagoner, when Piette abducted the girl in January 1997 from her new school. 

Piette introduced McGinnis to his children as their new mother, court records obtained by the newspaper showed. In the subsequent years, they moved frequently, living in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana and Idaho before moving on to Mexico.

“McGinnis stated that she was sexually assaulted multiple times a day almost every day while she was with Piette,” the court documents read.

>> Read more trending news

Piette would return to Oklahoma occasionally and make McGinnis mail letters from there so authorities would believe she was still living somewhere in the state, she told investigators. He also changed everyone’s names often to stay hidden.

McGinnis told People that, at the age of 18, she was forced by Piette to get her name and photo taken off national missing persons’ lists. 

“He parked three blocks down the road from the Phoenix Police Department, and he had three of my children,” she told the magazine. “He told me what to tell them. He said that if I didn’t come back within two hours, I would never see my children again.”

McGinnis said she walked into the police station and told officers that she had run away from home at 12 because her parents were drug addicts and that “nice people” had taken her in and raised her. Police, with no evidence to the contrary, were forced to believe her. 

She returned to Piette and her captivity, where she remained for another 13 years. In that time frame, she had another six children by her alleged abductor. 

Hostage shot by police nine times during bank robbery files lawsuit

Published: Monday, October 16, 2017 @ 11:57 PM

(FOX23.com)
(FOX23.com)

A woman taken hostage during a deadly bank robbery filed a lawsuit against a law enforcement agency for more than $75,000 after being injured. 

>> Read more trending news

Officers shot Julie Huff nine times while trying to take down Cedric Norris. Norris was supposed to be in prison in Texas when he robbed the Bank of Eufaula. 

Norris walked into the bank and shot and killed Randy Peterson. He shot another employee and then took Huff, who had been in the bank as a customer, as his hostage. 

Her attorneys say the gunfire from police left her disabled, unable to work and feeling that her quality of life had decreased. 

KOKI-TV tried to contact the defendants listed in the two lawsuits. Some have not returned calls, while others were advised not to comment on the pending litigation. 

Her attorneys sent the following statement:

Julie Huff was an innocent customer at the Bank of Eufaula when she was taken hostage. The Bank failed have proper security measures in place which caused her to be taken hostage and then severely injured. The Bank had multiple, unmonitored entrances and exits which encouraged this armed robbery. The Bank also failed to have an armed security guard which is in violation of proper banking standards. Further, the Law Enforcement officers knew Ms. Huff was an innocent hostage yet they deliberately shot her nine (9) times. Not one of the nine (9) bullets which hit Ms. Huff came from the kidnapper. All the bullets came from the law enforcement officers—one of whom shot her with an AR15. She was severely injured and has undergone many surgeries. Ms. Huff feels very lucky to be alive, but she has been permanently scarred and injured as a result of the failures of the Bank of Eufaula and the reckless and careless actions of law enforcement.

Some students getting paid to walk around Washington campus as digital billboards

Published: Monday, October 16, 2017 @ 11:14 PM

(KIRO7.com)
(KIRO7.com)

A start-up in Bellevue, Washington, has taken the concept of billboards, made it digital, and a lot smaller. Nomad has launched the product on college campuses around the country -- starting with the University of Washington.

>> Read more trending news

On the way to class on Monday, Derek Ishii made $15 on the University of Washington campus.
You’ve probably seen a human sandwich board before — those people who wear advertisements like a poncho. Think of Ishii as the millennial version of that.

“On my way to class, I just open up the app, click the start advertising button,” Derek told us, showing us the iPad he straps to his backpack or his chest.
He’s a "nomad" — working for the Bellevue start-up with the same name.
Jonah Friedl, 23 — barely out of college himself — founded the company when a restaurant he worked for while attending Washington State University tasked him with developing a unique strategy to attract student customers.
“If we want to put people on campus, put these representatives on campus — it’s really hard to do that — hard to track, hard to manage," Friedl said. "So we thought we could build some technology to help us out with that."
Here’s how it works: A brand like KIRO 7 will advertise on the screen. The nomad then wears the screen around campus. Due to sensors in the screen, the company can tell which areas they go to and how many interactions they have.
Then, Friedl tracks it.
“This shows density of exposure -- where they’re getting the most impressions,” he told us, showing us a map of the University of Washington campus on his computer, with areas highlighted like weather radar.
Sometimes impressions mean handing out a coupon card with a code, seeing how many are redeemed -- “and then correlate sales or app downloads and attribute that to Nomad,” Friedl said.

The nomads themselves — mostly college students — can lease an iPad from Nomad (the company) or use their own. Like rideshare drivers, they “walk” when they want to, with some limitations.
“Obviously 1 a.m. on a Monday isn’t very valuable, so we can kind of control when they’re out there and when it’s available to them,” Friedl said.

Ishii does it every day — he says — because getting paid to walk to class is what’s paying for class.

“Most of the financial responsibility is on me for paying for college,” Ishii concluded.