As the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performed its second-to-last show Sunday afternoon, a group of retired and former circus performers sat across the street at a hotel bar, laughing and hugging and sharing memories of tours past.

“There’s a lot of mixed emotions, said Rev. George “Jerry” Hogan, Ringling’s circus chaplain. “It’s a reunion, but it’s bittersweet. I’m seeing people I haven’t seen in years.”

Known as Father Jerry, the Catholic chaplain waved at a group of clowns at the bar. Nearly all of the folks at the bar said they were headed to the final 7 p.m. performance, but first, they needed a trip down memory lane with people who were, and always will be, part of a unique family.

“It’s 146 years of tradition, older than American baseball,” said David Gregg, a clown from Hollywood, Florida. “This was one of the last nomadic tribes running around the country.”

The circus has wowed crowds for decades with its “Greatest Show on Earth,” and is taking its final bow Sunday evening.

The final performance is at the Nassau County Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) east of New York City.

Ringling’s parent company, Feld Entertainment, announced in January it would close the show, citing declining attendance and high operating costs.

Kenneth Feld called Sunday’s final shows “a celebration.”

Feld said Sunday that while he is melancholy about closing the production, he feels the performers are energized to “go out on top.”

“We all have to embrace change,” he said. “But there is a love for the circus that will never die. Our…