you get started in the outdoor entertainment business?
I saw an ad in the London
Free Press, “Help Wanted to Travel”
Circus Vargas July ‘76, I had just turned 19.
How long were you with Vargas?
SSW: Wow, 18 seasons. What was your first job?
Big Top, Tent and Seats $80 a week no cookhouse. I also got $5 a
show security and props.
How often were you moving?
We did anywhere from 12 to 14 shows a week generally moved 2
times a week
What other shows have you worked on? And what was your favorite?
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
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
After you got out of the hospital, how long before you went back
to working elephants
After getting hurt that bad most people would have been looking
for a new career. Can you explain your feelings regarding
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.
What other animals have you worked with?
big horse, Leon the lion but mainly elephants.
Tell us about meeting Jim Zajicek and how you started working
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.
Is that when you first worked for Jim or was that later?
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.
When did you start working for with the Big Circus Sideshow?
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.
What is the best thing about working for the Big Circus Sideshow
and the worst?
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.
You like the casinos…but when it’s said and done do you make any
I do alright
Who are some of the people that have helped you along the way?
V.C Arivett was my first canvas boss on Vargas and he broke me
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.
I know you do a lot
of reading. Do you have any other hobbies? What do you like to do in
your free time?
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
What are your plans for the future? Do you plan on staying in
As long as there’s a business, I’m in but if we have many nights
like last night there’ll be no business.
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.
Where in Canada do you call home? How often do you get back to
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.
Is there anything you would like to add?
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…
Interview by Rick West
Header Design by JR Robinson
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
to their respective contributors all rights reserved