No Sign of Stopping Shrine Circus

Ringling Bros. announced it's shutting down, but Hadi Shrine won't quit

Nearly 150 years in the spotlight and it all comes down to four more months for the famous Ringling Brothers Circus. The “Greatest Show on Earth” announced it will show out for the last time in May.

The magic has run out. Circus officials cite high costs and low attendance over the last decade as a major reason the spectacle is shutting down. Some 500 workers and performers will lose their jobs.

“Of course we're sad,” says Kenneth Feld, CEO of the entertainment group over the circus. “It was a very difficult decision.”

As the curtain drops on the national act, what about a local legend? Tri-State leaders say Evansville's Hadi Shrine Circus shows no sign of slowing down despite the bad news for its bigger brother.

For 83 years, Evansville Shriners have captured the imaginations of young and old with their own circus. “Every year I look for that one shot we can get of a child with a total look of surprise and awe on their face,” says Dale Thomas, Hadi Shrine spokesperson.

The low attendance and high costs that plagued the Ringling Bros. and forced the circus to close isn't a problem unique to the Barnum and Bailey bill.

Thomas says the Shrine Circus attendance over Thanksgiving weekend in 2016 was down over past years. “They've been down other years and we've brought them back up.”

But Ringling's the pullout on pachyderms last year may have been the straw that broke the camel's back. Feld and others cite the removal of elephants as another major blow to the greatest show.

“If you ever been around elephants and see how big they are you just know why they're so important,” Thomas says, “because a child just looks at them,” he adds, with eyes of wonder.

Shriners have an elephant act, and Thomas says it's a mainstay at Ford Center.

Circus officials hand-pick their own acts from across the country. Thomas says there are strict standards on the treatment of animals, and any group that doesn't treat animals humanely won't be in the Shrine Circus.

The “Greatest Show on Earth” leaves its legacy. Shriners will do their best to carry on.


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