The 'Greatest Show on Earth' folds its tent for good

(CBS NEWS) -- Faced with declining ticket sales, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus -- after juggling the numbers as best it could -- is staging its final performance two weeks from today … which means that for anyone wanting to take one last look, there's no time to lose. Lee Cowan reports:

"Ladies and Gentleman, children of all ages … Welcome to the Greatest Show on Earth!"

It is a pretty bold claim: "The Greatest Show on Earth."  But Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey had every reason to brag. There was a time when there really was nothing else like it. Ringling was controlled mayhem -- a dizzying array of performers risking life and limb alongside a menagerie of exotic animals from faraway lands.

After 146 years, the thrills are still there, but the wonder seems to have faded.

Ringling's Ringmaster Jonathan Lee Iverson laments that today, when kids go looking for the Greatest Show on Earth, many look for it on their smartphones instead.

"More and more, unfortunately. we're becoming a society that really doesn't embrace wonder anymore," Iverson said. "The wonder that we offer, you can't find it on Facebook, you can't find it on YouTube. You have to engage, you have to be there, you have to be present, and it takes relating to others not like yourself. That's how this has been made."

It's a fact of modern life that brought Ringling's Big Top to its knees. "Without a doubt, it was the toughest business decision that we've made," said Kenneth Feld, CEO of Feld Entertainment. "And we made it together as a family."

His dad, Irvin Feld, bought the circus from the Ringlings for $8 million back in 1967. They were caretakers of a slice of Americana, and a home for a unique community whose desire to dazzle outweighed everything else.

"The love is for the institution, but the greater love is for the people that make up that institution," Feld said. "That's the difficult part."

Feld grew up with sawdust in his veins -- and so did his three daughters, Alana, Nicole and Juliette. They even performed with the Ringling clowns on occasion.

"I went to circus camp for a little while," said Nicole. "I was in a roller skating act where I lit a match on the floor with my teeth!"

MORE: Read & watch the full story at CBSNEWS.com

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