Great-Great Uncle Eugene Jule Pleau: Rough Times

As with his brothers, Eugene had his own rough times; some by chance and some brought on himself.

On April 30, 1899, 18-year-old Eugene had boarded the Rochester and Irondequoit Railroad (a.k.a. the “Bay Railroad”, sometimes called the Rochester and Ontario Railroad in the newspapers) going northbound.  The three railcars were jam-packed and overcrowded, as well as running somewhat late.  To make up for lost time, the train ran faster than usual.  As it rounded the 90 degree curve near the corner of Ridge Road and North Avenue, the first car derailed and tipped over.  Two people were killed, and Eugene was among the nineteen (according to the railroad) injured. I don’t know the extent of his injuries, but he, along with the other victims, filed suit against the railroad on May 9.  For some reason, none of these plaintiffs or their representatives showed up to court, and the case was dismissed on September 7.

A typical Rochester excursion train

A typical Rochester excursion train

This accident, of course, did not stop Eugene from riding the rails, for it was probably the best way to get around the area.  Three years later on November 25, 1902, he and a 16-year-old friend, James Valentine, traveled to Batavia, New York.  While there, they stole a coat and hat off a rack on the No. 77 Westbound train before 8:25pm and took off to the Central Hotel on Jackson Avenue.  The gentleman who owned the items saw Eugene and James commit the act and was able to describe them, which led to a search of the area.  Finally, they were found and arrested, with the Rochester authorities being notified.

The last item of trouble I’ve been able to find is Eugene’s marriage to Ladonna Jackson.  I have to admit, it is pure speculation that they had divorced.  Given his brothers’ marital track records (and we haven’t even talked about Charles yet!), I am assuming that Eugene followed suit.  However, it is entirely possible that Ladonna could have died; after all, she dropped out of his life in 1918 when there was a nationwide influenza pandemic.  In any case, she was listed with him in the Rochester City Directories from their marriage only until 1918.  When Eugene registered for the draft on September 9, 1918, he listed his closest relative as his sister Evelyn Weilert, not Ladonna.  I have found no evidence toward divorce or death; I just know that Eugene was a single man after this time.

Great-Great Uncle Eugene Jule Pleau

Eugene, later known professionally as “Gene”, was the youngest of the Pleau brothers. Like George and Al, he was also a performer. Below is an outline of his life.

  • Born February 19, 1881 in Rochester, NY.
  • On April 30, 1899, he sustained injuries as a result of an accident on the “Bay Railroad” in Rochester. I don’t believe the injuries did permanent damage, as he was known for dancing later in his career.
  • Like his father and brothers George and Al, he began working as a shoemaker. 1900 found him working at Meldola & Coon, which made children’s shoes.
  • On November 25, 1902, he and a friend were arrested for theft (yes, more on that later!).
  • In the 1905 New York state census, Eugene listed his occupation as a…piano player!
  • By 1912, he began dabbling in vaudeville, doing blackface just like brother Al. He performed all over New York state.
  • On October 4, 1915, he married Ladonna Jackson, who was a singer.
  • Sometime in late 1918, Ladonna is no longer living with him. I’m not sure if they separated and perhaps divorced or if she died.
  • Between 1919 and 1923, Eugene was not living in Rochester. I still haven’t been able to find him on the 1920 Census, but I believe he was living in New York state since he had some acting roles during this time.
  • Between 1923 and 1937, his home base was with his sister Evelyn and her husband Charles Weilert in Rochester. He travelled all over New York and New Jersey to act, sing, dance, and perform comedy.
  • By 1947 he was living on Long Island in Blue Point, NY, and apparently wintering in Martin County, FL. While in Florida, he played piano in nightclubs and on the radio
  • He died on December 5, 1954 in Martin County, FL after an illness.
  • There are two Find a Grave entries for him in Martin County: one at All Saints Cemetery in Jensen Beach, and one at Fernhill Memorial Gardens in Stuart. However, All Saints has a picture of his gravestone, so he is most likely buried there.

Great-Great Uncle Albert Joseph Pleau: His Troubles

Despite his penchant for comedy, Al Pleau’s life was not always filled with laughter. I’ve found at least three items that have added some darkness to his profile, which I’ve touched on here.

First is his arrest in 1897 at the age of 18. For some reason, he and a younger friend (16 year old Frank Bintz) were in Syracuse, New York. The police arrested them on March 10 under the charges of being tramps. The next day, they were arraigned in Police Court and plead guilty to being tramps, though claiming that their parents knew where they were. The judge gave Al a suspsended sentence, but I don’t know exactly what that entailed. (Frank was sent to an “industrial school” in Rochester.) Al’s stay in Syracuse seems to have been short-lived, as he was listed in the Rochester City Directory during this time.

I might add that this was not the only arrest in the Pleau family, but one of the earliest ones that I am aware of. It makes me wonder what about the family may have led to this aberration.

The second item in question was Al’s separation and divorce from his first wife, May. As far as I know, they were together at least two years, having married in 1902. The last newspaper date that reported them as performing together was in 1904, and the 1910 census shows them as separated. He was living in Rochester and May was in Cincinnati. I recently found a January 1911 Cincinnati newspaper article that states that May had filed divorce due to Al abandoning her on January 1 and being “willfully absent”.  What strikes me as strange is that she claimed this in 1911, but they were obviously separated a year before.  It makes me wonder:  who abandoned who?

Of course, a simple solitary divorce does not necessarily cast dispersion on one’s character. His divorce from his second wife, however, is another story!

According to a February 11, 1922 brief in the Sausalito News:

After testifying that her husband would tell her funny jokes instead of splitting his pay envelope with her, Mrs. Henrietta Pleau has been granted a divorce from Albert J. Pleau, a blackface comedian.

Does all this tell me that Al was irresponsible? That he didn’t take anything seriously? Or perhaps he could not commit to sticking to one place or one person. All of this, of course, is just conjecture.

Great-Great Uncle Albert Joseph Pleau: On With the Show!

Out of the three performing Pleau brothers, I think Al had the most experience, exposure, and consequently, fame.

In 1903, newspapers reported him playing piano (another piano player!) and performing skits with his wife, May, as part of Shield’s Vaudeville in Montana and Washington. 1904 is the first mention of his doing blackface comedy in Los Angeles. Blackface appears to be his “schtick”, as he performed it for many years all over the country. Some of the companies he was with were: Haverly’s Mastadon Minstrels, Hawley’s Minstrels, and even his own Al Pleau’s Minstrels. His wife Henrietta was even part of the act during their marriage.

Early in his career, Al played a leadership role for the causes he cared about. 1908 was when he seems to have put together Al Pleau’s Minstrels that performed a benefit for the Acadia Hose Company in Newark, NY. In 1912, he was director and musical director of the Western drama, “The Half-Breed” in Le Roy, NY that was to benefit St. Joseph’s Italian Church.

Another benefit that Al participated in was after World War I. On April 29, 1919, a day of entertainment was provided to a number of veterans who fought at Argonne at the country home of Senator James D. Phelan in Saratoga, CA. Al was named the “vaudeville tenor”.

Al must have made many friends in show business. In 1906 he contracted the measles, which affected his vision for a while, making him unable to perform. So in January 1907, a benefit was organized for him as he recuperated, perhaps to make up for his lost income.

Al also had a hand in songwriting and arrangement.  I was able to find some songs that he had copyrighted:

  • “When I Stroll With You” in 1910
  • “Don’t Be Jealous of Old New York” in 1910
  • “My Cousin Antone” in 1910
  • Sandy McPherson in 1910
  • “The Call to the Boys in Blue” in 1918 (by his own Al Pleau Music Co.)
  • “Where ‘ja Get It” in 1920
  • “Draw” also in 1920
Courtesy Library of Congress.

Courtesy Library of Congress.

My big thrill recently was finding the sheet music and manuscript of “The Call to the Boys in Blue” (the manuscript says “The Call of the Boys in Blue”) on the Library of Congress website! I wouldn’t be surprised if he wrote even more songs.

As vaudeville declined, so had the articles about Al’s performances. In 1922 he played Dave Tolliver in “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine” with the Hildebrand Company on stage in Klamath Falls, WA. I suspect that stage acting was the direction Al’s career took, as he was listed as an actor in his 1940 voter registration (he was a Democrat, by the way). For all I know, he may have done radio or even some film roles, but I haven’t found any evidence of that yet.

Great Great Uncle Albert Joseph Pleau

IN Harmony:  Sheet Music from Indiana

IN Harmony: Sheet Music from Indiana

Albert Joseph Pleau, who was commonly known as Al Pleau, was the oldest of my great-grandfather George’s younger brothers. Since I happened to find the most newspaper articles for his showbiz career, I consider him the most famous of the brothers. Below is an outline of his life:

  • Born January 30, 1878 in Rochester, Monroe County, NY to George Pleau and Emma (Leclair) Pleau. He was their fourth born child and third born son.
  • Like his brother, he had brown hair and brown eyes. He was a registered Democrat in 1940.
  • He seems to have started his working life as a shoemaker from 1896 to 1902. 
  • In March 1897, he had a run-in with the law in Syracuse, NY (more on that in another post). 
  • On March 30, 1902, he married Anna May Griemsman in Rochester, NY.
  • He appears to have moved away briefly in 1902, but returned to Rochester by 1903.  
  • In 1903 and 1904, he and May performed together in vaudeville all over the country.  
  • Al continued performing in vaudeville at least through 1910.
  • By April 19, 1910, he and May had separated. May was living in Cincinnati, OH with family.
  • On March 28, 1911, they were divorced in Hamilton, OH.
  • On January 11, 1912, he married Henrietta A. Harris.
  • Between 1912 and 1914, he was living in Canandaigua, Ontario County, NY.
  • Between 1913 and 1922, he performed alone and with Henrietta as a team, again traveling around the country.  
  • From 1915 to at least 1918, he was living back in Rochester.
  • By January 8, 1920, he and Henrietta lived in San Francisco. To my knowledge, he remained there the rest of his life.
  • By February 1922, Henrietta divorced him over a dispute in splitting their pay.
  • After the divorce, I was only able to find one article about Al acting in a play. However, he seemed to remain an actor for quite some time, since that is his listed occupation in 1940.