SSW: How did you get started in the outdoor entertainment business?

 

Mark: I saw an ad  in the London Free Press, “Help Wanted to Travel” Circus Vargas July ‘76,  I had just turned 19.

 

SSW: How long were you with Vargas?

 

Mark: 18 seasons.

 

SSW: Wow, 18 seasons. What was your  first job?

 

Mark: Big Top, Tent and Seats $80 a week no cookhouse. I also got $5 a show security and props.

 

SSW: How often were you moving?

 

Mark: We did anywhere from 12 to 14 shows a week generally moved 2 times a week

 

SSW: What other shows have you worked on? And what was your favorite?

 

Mark: Garden Bros., Jordan World, Circo Mundial , Sterling & Reid,  Tarzan Zerbini, Famma Productions in P.R., Paddilla Bros. Coronas, Carden, Hamid, Varios Schine Shows. Vargas was my favorite because I liked the people there, and because I respected Mr. V.

 

 

 

SSW: How did you get involved with elephants?

 

Mark: Well Rex was always offering me a job, so at the end of ‘81, I didn’t like the changes happening on the Big Top, so I went to Mr. V and asked for a transfer. He said no problem, so I went to work for Rex at the start of  winter quarters.

 

SSW: What were your duties when you started with the elephants?

 

Mark: Learning to stay alive!I was cleaning up behind the picket line and after Attie had her molar removed I had to feed her bread every day. Also I learned how to walk and load the rides and get the picket line ready for spec`. We also were rehearsing for the 1982 Rose Parade.

 

SSW: What do you mean “Learning to stay alive“?

 

Mark: Look Rick, like I use to tell people who wanted to pet the elephants there’s two kinds of elephants. You have your  Mister Rogers and your Charlie Mansons…theses aren’t no Fred Rogers 

 

SSW: Who is your favorite elephant?           

 

Mark: Gypsy, the Asian elephant, who  drove more than a few elephant guys crazy .

 

SSW: Working with large animals can be dangerous. Have you ever had a serious mishap working elephants?

 

Mark: Yes, (Rolls Eyes)  I was gored  by Tusko, developed gangrene and almost lost my leg. Two years later, I got the shit beat outta me by Betty-Boop. I was trying to chain up her front leg, she turned on me…hit me with her head and I went flying. I caught a gear-head stake in my ribs knocking the wind out of me…she dragged me back into the picket line and started to dance on me with her front feet. Ted Polks brother got me out of there. Longest 90 seconds of my life. Ended up in the hospital for 35 days, the food sucked!  The accident was my fault. I knew she didn’t like me and I went somewhere I shouldn’t have gone by myself.

 

SSW: After you got out of the hospital, how long before you went back to working elephants

 

Mark: Two months.

 

SSW: After getting hurt that bad most people would have been looking for a new career. Can you explain your feelings regarding elephants?

 

Mark: You spend all your time, day and night, twenty-four hours a day with the elephants, the elephants come first before anything else. They are your family, Its more than a job…its your life, its what you do. It’s hard to explain…You’re a Elephant Man.

 

SSW: What other animals have you worked with?

 

Mark: Ponies, big horse, Leon the lion but mainly elephants.

 

SSW: Tell us about meeting Jim Zajicek and how you started working with him?

 

Mark: I was on the road.  Chip Arthurs said there’s some guy taking Rex’s elephants on the road . We had never heard of him. The guy turned out to be Jim. He showed up at the Circus World Museum in Baraboo to work the elephant act.

 

SSW: Is that when you first worked for Jim or was that later?

 

Mark: We had some dates down by St. Louis to help Chip with first, that lasted about three weeks. When we got back to Baraboo we loaded the elephants and hit the road. Jim didn’t even get to practice the act before our first date so he didn’t know the order of the routine. I was at the back of the ring hollering out the order of the act…Waltz, Tubs, Long Mount,

Set em’ Up, etc., etc. by the evening show Jim had it down.

 

SSW: When did you start working for with the Big Circus Sideshow?

 

Mark: I started in 2002 on Sterling and Reed Circus after I retired from the elephant business I called Jim and asked if he needed help. I’ve been here ever since.

 

SSW: What is the best thing about working for the Big Circus Sideshow and the worst?

 

Mark: The route. There’s a lot of casinos on the route and I’m a player. The worst thing is being on the carnivals. I miss circus life it’s more like family.

 

SSW: You like the casinos…but when it’s said and done do you make any money gambling?

 

Mark: I do alright

 

SSW: Who are some of the people that have helped you along the way?

 

Mark: V.C Arivett was my first canvas boss on Vargas and he broke me in.

 

Several elephant guys helped including Rex Williams and Ted Polk. They were the elephant guys on Vargas. I also learned a lot from Jim Zajicek and Gary Thomas.

 

SSW: I know you do a lot of reading. Do you have any other hobbies? What do you like to do in your free time?

 

Mark: I like to keep up on my gambling.  Enjoy a good cigar and working the daily jumble in the paper. As for the books I like to read  mostly stuff  like Carl Heissen, “The Biggest Game in Town” by A. Alverez, “The Man with the Hundred Thousand Dollar Breast” by Micheal Konik and “According To Doyle” by Doyle Brunson.

 

SSW: What are your plans for the future? Do you plan on staying in the business?

 

Mark: As long as there’s a business, I’m in but if we have many nights like last night there’ll be no business.

 

SSW: Yeah, it’s pretty tough trying to get the money in the rain. Speaking of bad weather, have you ever been in a big blow-down?

 

Mark: November,1980, Roswell NM….Vargas, The day started out drizzling, two-shows 4:30 7:30,  temp dropping, during the 7:30 show the rain turns to heavy wet snow, every-one’s concerned as the weight builds up on the top, the weight is pushing the quarter poles into the ground, nearly a foot of snow on the top, they call a John Robinson, by the time we got the seats loaded, Cliff (Vargas) said, “Let it go!“…we let it drop. Total loss. Luckily we had a spare tent to finish the season.

 

SSW: Where in Canada do you call home? How often do you get back to Canada?

 

Mark: London Ontario and my mother was not thrilled when I left. I get back as often as I can because my mothers in her late 80s. She needs someone around as much as possible.

 

SSW: Is there anything you would like to add?

 

Mark:  Did I tell you about my gambling operation on Sterling and Reed?

I set up a blackjack table between shows…

 

Jim pokes his head in, “Time to open”.

 

Rick, come back later you’ll like this one…

 

Sideshow World Interview by Rick West

 


Header Design by  JR Robinson

 

Photographs

Circus Vargas Big Top Canada 1977 - Courtesy Mark Pierson

Circus Vargas Tent Crew - Courtesy Mark Pierson

A Cool Drink of Water - Article - Elephant groomer Mark Pierson waters his elephants Monday at Frontier Park.  Pierson said each elephant can drink up to 30 gallons of water a day.  The elephants are part of the Sterling and Reid Bros. Circus, which performed Monday and will perform at 4:30 and 7:30 tonight.

Joy - Gypsy - Tusko - Courtesy Mark Pierson

Mark leading Col Joe - Courtesy Mark Pierson

Mark in ticket box on the Big Circus Sideshow - photograph by Lori Ballard

Mark in Conroe TX on the Big Circus Sideshow - photograph by Rick West

Mark in the back yard - photograph by Lori Ballard

 

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