Great-Great Uncle Charles Napoleon Pleau

Author's collection

Author’s collection

Call it intuition, but I always sensed that Charles was different from his brothers. For one thing, he never worked as a shoemaker; for another, he never seemed to be in the performance circuit. Holy Sepulchre Cemetery records indicated that he died at age 45 and I wondered why. As I delved deeper into the Pleau family, I discovered that Charles’ story was indeed different that his brothers’. Therefore, I’ve decided to handle him differently in this blog.

He was born March 30, 1870 in Rochester, NY and seems to have started out being named Napoleon Charles Pleau. By 1892, however, he went by his middle name and was working as a driver/teamster.

On April 3, 1892, he married Emma Ackerman in Rochester and soon moved to Syracuse. Then on December 21, 1892, he enlisted in the army because he was broke & “didn’t know what else to do.” His wife, Emma does not appear to be in the picture. Did she die, leaving Charles with medical bills? Did she leave him, taking everything with her? Whatever happened, he thought the army was the answer to his problems.

Charles very quickly discovered that he was wrong. On January 15, 1893, he went AWOL from Davids Island, NY and made his way back to Rochester, where he was caught on February 8, to be tried by the army. On March 6, 1893, dishonorably discharged for desertion & sentenced to 3 months of hard labor at Fort Columbus in New York Harbor.

Once he was back home, Charles worked as a laborer then a peddler. At some point, he met Anna K. Siebert of nearby Greece, New York, and on Nov 24, 1896, they were married in Rochester. On September 21, 1897, they welcomed their firstborn son, whom they named George Albert after Charles’ brothers. George Albert was joined by Frank (named after Anna’s brother) in June 1899.

Charles held down what looked to be promising jobs in the railroad; first as a brakeman at BR&P Railway in Rochester and then as a fireman on NYC Railroad in Rochester. But I suppose things were not as happy has they seemed. On April 10, 1900, Charles was arrested for intoxication, but fortunately had his judgment suspended.

Tragedy struck again on September 22, 1900 when little Frank died. (I have not found the cause of death yet.) Although it is said that the death of a child causes a great strain on a marriage, I can only speculate that this was just one contributing factor to the downfall of Charles and Anna’s marriage. By 1904 they separated; he went back to live with his parents and she worked as a domestic servant in Rochester. Their surviving son, George Albert, went to live with his maternal grandparents in Greece.

Charles seemed to hop from one job to another as a teamster, a “helper” at 7 Elizabeth Street, and then a silver plater in 1905. 1905 found him living with his parents at 539 North Avenue in one version of the June census, then as a boarder in the same house as widow Minnie Vincent at 30 Joiner Street. I assume this is where he first met Minnie, who became his third wife on May 25, 1907.

There was absolutely no domestic bliss in this marriage. Five days later, Minnie kicked Charles out of their North Street home and she had him arrested on April 9th. I’m not sure if he went back to live with her at any point (the city directories show him as living with his parents), but on Mar 2, 1909 he is arrested for non-support and abandonment of Minnie.

At this point there was no pretense of living a happy, settled life, even though he held a steady job as a laborer in a shop. On February 3, 1910, Charles was arrested in Utica, New York for vagrancy and was arraigned in that city’s court. It seems that all this while, Minnie was set on getting her due. On April 17, 1914 Charles was arraigned in police court for non-support of his wife. This was his fourth arrest on this charge; for the previous three, he had served time in the penitentiary (most recently 6 months). At this time, he admitted that he had committed bigamy when he married Minnie. Stranger still, Minnie admitted she knew had a wife when she married him. Adjournment was obtained until April 22 so Charles could find his “first wife” (I presume Anna) or a record of the marriage. Charles admitted to bigamy in order to get out of support, but the charge of bigamy could not be tried for it due to statute of limitations. He was released from police court on April 24.

I don’t think Charles could ever regain whatever had been lost in his life; it was completely out of control. He became a vagrant, undoubtedly drinking. My original question of Charles’ death was answered, as I discovered that on April 9, 1915 he committed suicide by hanging himself from the top of a ladder in a cartman’s barn. Coroner ruled it by reason of insanity, Charles’ final sentence. On April 13, 1915 he was buried very close to his parents’ plot, his father having died the year before.

Looking over Charles’ tumultuous life and tragic death, it is easy to pass judgment on how he lived. However, I think Charles did two things right, whether it was his intent or not: to father George Albert Pleau, and to not raise this son during his most formative years. George Albert grew up to be a fine man, serving his country in the Merchant Marine and rescuing his own family from drowning on a fishing trip. Charles’ line continues to this day.

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 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.