How the clowns said goodbye to Ringling Brothers circus.

May 21, 2017, was the final curtain call for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Dogged by animal rights issues and facing declining ticket sales, the 146-year-old circus gave its last performance.

Photographer Julie Jacobson was able to go behind the curtains at the circus' final few shows, capturing what the last few weeks as a clown or performer looks like. Looking through the photos — as the one thing binding them together comes to an end — feels like stealing a glimpse into a high school yearbook on the very last day of school.


The circus' clowns enjoyed their final few group breakfasts together.

Beth Walters and Stephen Craig chat over Clown Alley's final breakfast. Photo by Julie Jacobson/AP.

They called themselves "Clown Alley," both the name of their private backstage area and their ad hoc family.

Clown Alley takes a break between acts. Photo by Julie Jacobson/AP.

Brian Wright got people to sign his "clown bible."

"Dream big!" someone wrote. Photo by Julie Jacobson/AP.

Over the last four years, he's gathered jokes, memories, and thoughts into the book.

Nick Lambert wanted to leave a little something behind.

The cabinet in Lambert's room, complete with graffiti. Photo by Julie Jacobson/AP.

Inside one of the cabinet doors, past clowns have been surreptitiously adding their names and years, like the graffiti on a high school desk. Lambert planned to add his name to the list.

Concessions manager Jeannie Hamilton waved goodbye to people from the train.

Hamilton helps a customer in Providence, Rhode Island. Her room on the train may not have been much bigger than her concession stand. Photo by Julie Jacobson/AP.

The circus' train was long and slow, which meant plenty of opportunities.

A man waves as the circus' train chugs along. Circus trains move pretty slow. He may have been there a while. Photo by Julie Jacobson/AP.

High-wire performer Anna Lebedeva trained hard to make that last performance after giving birth to her son.

High-wire performer Anna Lebedeva stands next to her son's stroller. Photo by Julie Jacobson/AP.

For tiger trainer Taba Maluenda, the last performance was also a chance to say goodbye to the animals he'd worked with for years.

Maluenda performs with a tiger during a show in Providence. Photo from AP Photo/Julie Jacobson.

The big cats that made up Maluenda's show are destined for a center that specializes in tigers.

Life is full of these bittersweet endings, even in the circus.

Boss clown Sandor Eke carries his 2-year-old son, Michael, on his shoulders as they walk toward what will be one of Ringling Bros.' last performances. Photo by Julie Jacobson/AP.

Everyone can relate to a moment when you know a chapter in your life is coming to an end. For many of the performers, this may mark the end of their circus career.

That said, that doesn't mean people should despair about the art form. As American studies professor Janet M. Davis of the University of Texas points out, Ringling Bros., with its gigantic scope and railroad caravan, represents only one specific type of circus.

"Many small one-ring shows are thriving," says Davis. "And the rise of youth circuses across the country marks a field of vitality and growth."

So while Ringling Bros. might be gone, hopefully it won't be too long before the circus comes to town again.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less