Neil Leifer from Sports illustrated/Getty Images
Whether or not you agree that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus is “the greatest show on earth,” there’s no doubt it is an American icon. Ever since Ulysses Grant was president, Ringling Bros. has served up a movable feast of performing animals, human cannonballs, and one-of-a-kind spectacles, such as this motorcycle-and-trapeze tightrope act, shown here in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1979.
After 146 years, however, the show won’t go on much longer: The circus will fold its big top once and for all this spring. Don’t miss these vintage photos to see what life was like under the tent.
Photograph by Neil Leifer