ELLENTON, Fla.-- For more than a century, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus went by the self proclaimed title, "The Greatest Show on Earth," and few dispute its truth.
"There was no show to work for like the Ringling Brothers, because it truly is the greatest show on earth," said Aaron Watkins, who worked as a clown for the circus for about 5 years. He says that made the news of the show shutting down all the more surprising.
"I was shocked," said Watkins. "Everyone I know was shocked." He added: "Once you get to 145 years old you think it's going to be around forever, but they only made it to 146 years unfortunately."
Parent company Feld Entertainment made the announcement Monday, attributing the decision to a sharp decline in ticket sales, which dropped even more when the company retired the iconic elephants, following accusations of animal cruelty.
"The percentage drop was much more severe than what we anticipated and that's what ultimately what led to this difficult decision," said Chariman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, Kenneth Feld.
That decline, coupled with the high operating cost made it "an unsustainable business model." The decision effects the more than 400 people who work for the circus, and Feld Entertainment is offering help in finding other employment.
"We will be working with all of our people including performers over the next few weeks to help them transition to other opportunities," said Chief Operating Officer Juliette Feld.
For Watkins and many others, this is the end of an era.
"You'll never be able to get that many creative people together again to match the greatest show on earth," said Watkins. "That doesn't mean that the circus is dead, but the great American circus," added Watkins, "this is probably the death blow to it."
Feld Entertainment insists though, the legacy lives on.
"Live entertainment is not going away," said Juliette Feld. There is no replacement for being live at an event. The legacy of Ringling Brothers will exist in that it has infused all other live entertainment."