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.

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Elementary school principal praised for helping serve breakfast to students

Published: Saturday, May 26, 2018 @ 3:43 AM

A Texas elementary school principal handed out breakfast to students when the cafeteria was short-staffed (not pictured). (Micah Sittig via Flickr (CC BY 2.0))
Micah Sittig via Flickr  (CC BY 2.0)
A Texas elementary school principal handed out breakfast to students when the cafeteria was short-staffed (not pictured). (Micah Sittig via Flickr (CC BY 2.0))(Micah Sittig via Flickr (CC BY 2.0))

A principal at Dr. Martha Mead Elementary School is getting praise after she was photographed helping serve breakfast to her students.

KSAT reported that Principal Annette Lopez stepped into action when she was told that the cafeteria would be short staffed Thursday. Many employees were out on sick leave.

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“What happens when the cafeteria is short staffed? The principal puts on a hair net, gloves & apron to help serve breakfast,” Mead Elementary captioned a photo posted to the school’s Twitter page.

“When you serve that many students, there is no way that one line is just going to do it,” Lopez told KSAT. “I loved it and the kids had fun, (and) one of the kids said, ‘Hey, I know you,’ and I said, ‘Yes, I’m the principal.’”

>> Need something to lift your spirits? Read more uplifting news 

According to Lopez more than 400 students are served meals at the school  .

“(The students) kept saying, ‘But, you’re the principal.’ And I kept saying, ‘It doesn’t matter what your job title is, if someone needs help, then you do it,’” Lopez said.

By lunch time, the cafeteria was fully staffed, but the photo posted of Lopez serving students made a lasting impression.

“Not surprising,” one reply read. “This principal is one of the best.”

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Indiana couple finds bobcat sleeping on front porch

Published: Saturday, May 26, 2018 @ 1:22 AM

A bobcat (not pictured) was found sleeping on a couple's front porch in  Georgetown, Indiana. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images/Getty Images
A bobcat (not pictured) was found sleeping on a couple's front porch in Georgetown, Indiana. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)(Sam Greenwood/Getty Images/Getty Images)

A family in Georgetown, Indiana, said they walked on their front porch to find a bobcat sleeping on a chair.

WAVE reported that Donna and Ray Singleton, the owners of the home, walked out onto the porch around 7:30 a.m. Monday. 

“I looked at it and I thought, ‘That is the biggest cat I have ever seen,’” Donna Singleton told WDRB. “It was very, very beautiful.”

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They left the home for four hours and the big cat hadn’t moved.

“My husband, Ray, said, ‘I think that's a bobcat.’ With that, we got in the car, came back at 11:30 and it’s still there,” Donna Singleton said.

Like Donna Singleton, neighbors began taking videos and photos of the bobcat.

According to WDRB, residents in the area suspect that the bobcat is a pet because it’s been seen in the area before. It’s also known that someone in the area owns a bobcat. With the proper permit, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources says it’s legal to own the big cat, according to WDRB.

The bobcat eventually woke and walked away. 

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Albania national deserts cruise ship, captured at Atlanta Amtrak station, feds say

Published: Friday, May 25, 2018 @ 10:58 PM

Atlanta U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents escort Gentian Kurdina, 23, after the Albanian national deserted his cruise ship in Louisiana and boarded a train bound for New York City.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Atlanta U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents escort Gentian Kurdina, 23, after the Albanian national deserted his cruise ship in Louisiana and boarded a train bound for New York City.(U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

An Albanian national was pulled off an Amtrak train in Atlanta days after he deserted his cruise ship while it was docked in the Port of New Orleans, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

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A Carnival vessel agent notified the New Orleans customs office May 21 that cruise ship member Gentian Kurdina, 23, failed to return, the agency said.

New Orleans and Atlanta customs officers coordinated during the investigation and searched for the man.

He was boarding a train in Atlanta bound for New York City late Tuesday night when authorities took him into custody for removal from the U.S., according to officials.

"U.S. Customs and Border Protection maintains a high level of vigilance and works closely with a myriad of law enforcement partners as part of efforts to manage our borders," Steven Stavinoha, the director of the New Orleans Office of Field Operations, said in a statement.

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"This is just the latest example of the men and women of CBP working hard every day to secure our borders and keep our nation safe."

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Release of child rapist with more than 100 victims on hold after appeal by attorney

Published: Friday, May 25, 2018 @ 10:27 PM

Wayne Chapman was convicted of molesting as many as 100 boys in the 1970s. Now he's due for release from prison after being deemed no longer sexually dangerous.
Massachuetts Department of Corrections
Wayne Chapman was convicted of molesting as many as 100 boys in the 1970s. Now he's due for release from prison after being deemed no longer sexually dangerous.(Massachuetts Department of Corrections)

The release of an admitted child rapist is on hold until Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court can review the decision to release him, according to attorney Wendy Murphy. 

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Murphy, who is also a victims' advocate, filed an appeal to Wayne Chapman's release Thursday. 

Chapman has admitted to molesting more than 100 boys and is the longtime suspect in the Andy Puglisi disappearance.

70-year-old Chapman has been behind bars since 1977, when he was convicted of raping young boys. He finished serving his sentence in 2004, but has been held as a sexually dangerous person for the last 14 years.

This week, the Department of Corrections said Chapman must be released after two qualified examiners recently found him no longer sexually dangerous. 

Under state law, the DOC ordered his release.

While in custody Chapman, with few exceptions, has consistently refused to take part in sex offender treatment.

Chapman's lawyer told Boston 25 News that his client is ill and will likely never be able to leave the hospital. 

Earlier this year, Chapman filed a petition for release from civil commitment, arguing he is no longer sexually dangerous. Chapman has had several of these public hearings before single judges and juries, and he lost each time.

>> Related: Convicted child rapist Wayne Chapman no longer a threat, state determines

The most recent decision was January 2016, when a jury found Chapman still sexually dangerous.

In preparation for the upcoming hearing scheduled for July, two "qualified examiners" met with Chapman and found him no longer sexually dangerous. Under a 2009 SJC decision, once that happens, release is mandated.

Murphy's appeal alleged that procedure was not correctly followed. Murphy also said the SJC is asking Department of Corrections, the Attorney General's office, the District Attorney and Chapman's lawyer to respond to the appeal by next Wednesday. 

Murphy said the victims are relieved, grateful, and optimistic that Chapman's release has been delayed.

>> Related: Lawyer: Wayne Chapman's undisclosed medical condition requires daily attention

Governor Charlie Baker's Office sent Boston 25 News the following statement:

“Governor Baker believes anyone with Wayne Chapman’s history of convictions should not be released from prison, the Legislature should review the state laws that led to his release so that the victims of such horrible crimes are protected in the future, and supports the SJC’s decision to review this case.”

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