Bidding farewell to the Greatest Show on Earth

Families can see the Greatest Show on Earth one last time March at the U.S. Bank Arena before the circus closes permanently in May. CONTRIBUTED
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Families can see the Greatest Show on Earth one last time March at the U.S. Bank Arena before the circus closes permanently in May. CONTRIBUTED

From magna cum laude at Loyola University to soaring across the arena as the human cannonball – it wasn’t a typical career path for Nicole Sanders.

In addition to earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology, “Nitro Nicole,” as she is known to fans of The Greatest Show on Earth, spent years studying ballet and, later, fine-tuning her skills in a professional aerial program. She was offered a role in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 2014.

“I was ecstatic when I got the call,” Sanders said. “I took ballet since I was 3, and everyone knew how much I enjoyed performing, so I don’t think anyone was surprised when I joined. But when I tell people I’m a human cannonball, I definitely get some funny looks. They think I’m joking.”

Sanders, 32, will be one of the 300 cast and crew members who will bring The Greatest Show on Earth to Cincinnati, March 10-19, for one final series of 13 southern Ohio performances. The curtain will come down on the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus forever later this year.

P.T. Barnum dubbed his circus “The Greatest Show on Earth” in 1872, but purchased a museum of oddities more than three decades earlier, extending the storied history of this American staple to 176 years.

“It’s devastating that it’s coming to an end,” Sanders said. “It’s more than losing a job — we’re like family. You live with each other and interact with each other all day, every day. We love each other and have incredible respect for one another.”

“Nitro Nicole” won’t be the only one going out with a bang at U.S. Bank Arena, as Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus XTREME is bringing together high-wire wizards, strongmen, BMX trick riders, trampoline daredevils, contortionists, a bungee aerial skydiving display and a full menagerie of amazing animals from Bengal tigers to two-humped camels.

“It’s an amazing show,” Sanders said.


RINGLING BROS. AND BARNUM & BAILEY CIRCUS XTREME

When: March 10-19

Show schedule: Friday, March 10, 7 p.m.; Saturday, March 11, 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Sunday, March 12, 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.; Thursday, March 16, 7 p.m.; Friday, March 17, 7 p.m.; Saturday, March 18, 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.; and Sunday, March 19, 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Where: U.S. Bank Arena, Cincinnati

Tickets: $15 and up, available at the U.S. Bank Arena Box Office, ticketmaster.com or by phone at 800-745-3000.

More: The All Access Pre-show is free with ticket purchase and starts one hour before the show. Meet performers, get up close to the animals, try on custom costumes and learn circus skills, like juggling, from the famous Ringling Bros. Clown Alley.

RINGLING BROS. AND BARNUM & BAILEY HISTORICAL TIMELINE

1841 – P.T. Barnum purchases a museum of oddities in New York City, which is named Barnum’s American Museum. His array of displays includes a flea circus, ventriloquists, historical items and freaks of nature.

1872 – Barnum calls his circus – which travels by rail – “The Greatest Show On Earth.”

1882 – P.T. Barnum brings Jumbo the Elephant to America. The following year, Jumbo walks across brand-new Brooklyn Bridge to test its sturdiness.

1884 – The five Ringling brothers, living in Baraboo, Wisconsin, produce their first circus.

1886 – The Ringling brothers are able to afford their first exotic animal, a blind hyena.

1888 – Barnum’s and Bailey’s shows become known as Barnum & Bailey Circus.

1916 – At a performance of Barnum & Bailey, President Wilson throws his hat into ring, indicating his willingness to run for a second term.

1917 – 75 percent of the Ringling Bros. workers enlist in military when U.S. enters World War I. The show goes on with mostly female staff and performers.

1919 – The Ringling brothers combine their two enormous shows to create the world’s first “super circus” – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

1942 – President Roosevelt gives Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey a special dispensation so that it can tour to help home-front morale during World War II.

1953 – Author Ernest Hemingway writes for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey program book.

1955 – Marilyn Monroe rides a pink elephant into Madison Square Garden on opening night.

1956 – Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey gives its last performance under the big top. Irvin Feld masterminds its transition from tent to arenas, ushering in a new entertainment era.

1967 – Brothers Irvin and Israel Feld and their business partners purchase Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

1968 – Irvin Feld establishes Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College

1970 – Female clowns become part of Clown Alley at The Greatest Show On Earth.

1989 – More than 11 million people visit Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, up from 7 million at beginning of decade.

1995 – The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation– a 200-acre, $5-million, facility dedicated to the reproduction, research and retirement of Asian elephants – is established in Florida.

2001 – Johnathan Lee Iverson becomes the first African-American ringmaster.

2015 – Thirteen elephants traveling with The Greatest Show on Earth joined a herd of more than 40 elephants at the Center for Elephant Conservation, enabling Feld Entertainment to focus on its Asian elephant conservation programs.

2016 – Kristen Michelle Wilson joins Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Presents Circus XTREMEand become the first-ever female ringmaster in the brand’s 146-year history.