Barnum Museum rebuild could benefit by circus shutting down

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BRIDGEPORT --The curtain will soon come down on the greatest show on earth, whose roots run deep in Bridgeport.

On Monday morning, Feld Entertainment, owners of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced the circus, which has been run for 146 years, will cease operations in May.

Actually, Phineas Taylor "PT" Barnum, who was born in Bethel and lived for many years in Bridgeport, never called his creation a circus.

"It was always the greatest show on earth," said Kathleen Maher, the Executive Director for the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport.

Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus was among the first shows booked into the arena at Harbor Yard, when it opened in 2001. Mayor Joe Ganim (D-Bridgeport), who was Mayor at the time, said he's planning to reach out to Feld Entertainment to "see if there's anything that we can do to have them reconsider this decision or to make them a little bit more able."

She believes, despite the announcement, the show will go on, in some form, because it's filled with such extraordinary athletes and acrobats.

"And that's a resource that I'm sure that they still cherish and perhaps find a new way to tell the greatest show on earth story," which the museum plans to do, through 21st century technology.

"So, when you come to the Barnum Museum, you will already have an app experience ready for you," said Maher.

The public hasn't been able to realize the full Barnum Museum experience since 2010, though. A tornado, followed by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 and Super Storm Sandy in 2012 damaged nearly half of the museum's 25,000 artifacts. To date, roughly $4 million has been spent salvaging artifacts and shoring up the building, which was built in 1893.

While a museum gallery remains open twice a week to the public, including to school groups, it could take several more years for the primary museum to reopen.

"I think right now the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport is more important than ever," said Maher, who attended her first circus in 1972, at Long Island's Nassau Coliseum.

"And I think it's profound that that's where it ends. So I will be there, with my parents," she said with her eyes welling up.

May 21 is the day the curtain comes down on the greatest show on earth.