It is with deep sadness on behalf of our family that I post the death of Sonny Pelaquin on March 1, 2002. One of the best showmen in the family and in the business, Sonny was loved and respected by his family and those who had the privilege of knowing or working with him. The "Mad Penguin" and his one-of-a-kind sense of humor will be missed. An even sadder postscript to this is the death of his wife Judy on May 27, 2002. They were inseparable in life and are now together again. I personally am grateful to them for giving Russ and I the once in a lifetime experience of traveling with the carnival--I will never forget all they've done for us. Their passing marks the end of an era and leaves a huge hole in my past..and in my heart. Jolynn
The Pelaquin family was famous for being motor drome riders--riding a motorcycle on a wall. I could take a lot of time to try and explain this talent-- or I could simply have you take a look for yourself. Check out Thrillarena to take a look at the history of this sport and the pioneers of the dying art of motor drome riding. The website is the creation of Samantha Morgan, a motor drome rider who learned the craft from Sonny Pelaquin. She went on to become one of the most renowned and world-traveled daredevils; riding in motor dromes in Germany and France as well as all over America and Canada. After Sonny's death, she dedicated herself to keeping his memory alive. Thanks to her efforts, Sonny was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame at Sturgis, ND; Samantha was inducted as well. She has often ridden under the name "Sunny Pelaquin"--just to keep the name "out there".
Sam was in the process of completely revamping the website before her untimely death on April 24, 2008. So, even though you may see phrases like "Much, much more to come!" on the site, it is, sadly, not true. Now that she's gone, it's up to those of us left to take up where she left off and keep the memory and legacy of the Pelaquin family alive. This page is my small contribution.
Paul Pelaquin and Lizzie Lake are the earliest known descendants thus far.
Paul and Lizzie were of French-Canadian descent. Paul and his parents (Peter and Frances) were born in Canada. Lizzie’s parents were born in Canada, but Lizzie’s place of birth has been recorded as Canada; St. Albans, Vermont; and Montpelier, Vermont. Lizzie’s father’s name was Paul and her mother’s name has been recorded as Roseanne Bul.2
Being a French-Canadian immigrant presented language challenges. To quote Thomas LaForest in “Our French-Canadian Ancestors”: ‘A beautiful French name in an Anglo-Saxon’s mouth was usually massacred, with no malice aforethought’. This happened in our family–Champoux became Shampoo; D’aoust became Dow–and Pelaquin became Pelican-or Piliken.4
Because of this, French-Canadian immigrants often gave the English translation of their name rather than the French version–although after they began having children, they often reverted back to the original French form of their name. In our family, Beauchamp became Fairfield; LeBlanc became White; Boulanger became Baker–and Lac became Lake. Add to this the fact that those who recorded vital records back in that time were usually folks who had been given that job due to political influences–many were barely literate. This helps to explain why these names were so butchered in the records of the past--and makes finding these folks such a challenge.4
Paul Piliken and Lizabeth Lack were married on 26 February 1854 in Milbury, Worcester Co., Massachusetts. He was 19 years old; she was 15. He was a weaver, probably in a textile factory. He would soon make his way into the shoe factory, where he would work for the rest of his life.2
The couple had the following children–shown with the different spellings of the last name as show in the record books:
Paul Periken- born 9 May 1855 in Grafton, Massachusetts.1
Peter Pelakin- born 27 Aug 1856 in Grafton.1
Emily- ca 1859; no birth record found-is listed w/family in two 1870 census enumerations.6
January- male child born ca 1860. No birth record found; however this person is listed in the abovementioned 1870 census records.6
Joseph Pelican- 6 July 1860 Grafton. Joseph is not listed in either of the 1870 enumerations for this family. It is possible that Joseph and January are the same person.1
Melinda Pelican- ca Aug 1861 Sorel, Canada (?); died 27 Apr 1862 Grafton of "infantile". (This info is from the death record and I question the place of birth).3
Edward- ca 1863. No birth record can be located, but he is listed in the 1870 and 1880 census for this family.6
Nesra Pelican- born 24 Mar 1866 in Hudson, Massachusetts.1
Sarah Pelllican- 17 Nov 1867 in Hudson;died 17 Feb 1868 in Hudson of lung fever (info from death rec-no birth rec found).3
Josephine Pellican- Born 18 Dec 1872 in Hudson.1
Rosa Pellican- Born 29 Jun 1874 in Hudson.1
Louis- ca Apr 1875 in Massachusetts. No birth record can be located, but he is included in the family 1880 census.6
In 1870, the family was living in Southborough, Worcester Co., Massachustts when the census taker came on 13 June–and listed Lizzie as “Emily” and Nesra as “Nelson”. By 18 August of that year, the family had moved to Hudson, Middlesex County. The census taker for that district came calling–and the family was enumerated again! Except that this time, Lizzie was “Elizabeth” and Nesra was “Nesy”.6
The 1880 census found the family living in Westbrough, Worcester Co., Massachusetts. Paul and Lizzie had Edward, Nelson, Josephine, Rosa, and Louis living at home. This census claims that neither Paul nor Lizzie could read or write, which wasn’t a surprise. But it also claims that Edward could not do so either. It does not make this claim for Nelson.6
Paul Peloquin succumed to pneumonia on 26 April 1890 in Grafton. The recording of this event in the record book reflects a spelling of the surname much closer to the one that is used today.3
At some point after the death of her husband, Lizzie makes her way southeast–to the town of Whitman, Plymouth Co., Massachusetts. It is here that she married Octave Harper on 5 November 1891.2 It is not known when Lizzie Lake died.
Louis, who was 16 or so when his mother remarried, probably accompanied her to the Plymouth County area. There were lots of shoe factories in Brockton, the largest city in the county-which meant work. However, Louis seems to have left his heart in Grafton–in the care of one Annie Drumgool. And on 14 July 1895, he went back to Grafton and married her. Annie was born in Scotland, the daughter of Irish immigrants John Drumgool and Annie (maiden name unknown). Her year of immigration to America has been listed as both 1881 and 1892–with the former making more sense.2
From this point on, the spelling of the family name seems to be fixed at Pelaquin–at least for this branch of the family. How did this come about? Did someone actually find the original spelling of the name–and insist that it be used? Did someone get tired of being called by the same name as the large, unattractive, fish-swallowing bird? At any rate, in both the record books of Brockton and the census records, the name “Pelican” and all of its mutations seem to have been retired–for this part of the family, anyway.
Louis made his living the way his father had–working in a shoe factory. By 1900, the couple was living on Plain Street in Brockton with 3 children:
Louis J.- born in June 1896.3
Paul M.- born in March 1898.3
Rosanna- born in February 1900.3
There was also a Joseph Pelaquin living with them, listed as Louis’ nephew.3
In 1910, the couple was living at #14 Perkins Place in Brockton. They had added Joseph Alfred, who was born 12 May 1903; and James G., born about 1905, to their brood. The census of that year indicates that Annie was mother of 6 children, with 5 living.3
Louis Pelaquin died sometimes between the 1910 and 1920 census. The 1920 census shows Annie as a widow, living with her son Joseph. Son James does not appear. Annie seems to be running a boarding house of sorts.3
About 1923 or so, Joseph Alfred Pelaquin married Viola Emmeline Noel. The groom was 20 years old; the bride 16.3 Viola was the daughter and oldest child of Edgar Noel and Josephine Brunell, and was born October 31, 1907, in Randolph, Massachusetts.1
This union would produce some of the best riders in the motor drome industry.
Joe and Viola had 6 children:
Lorraine- Is still living as far as I know, so no details will be posted. I can tell you that she opted for a more traditional lifestyle and did not follow her parents and brothers "up on the wall".6,9
Joseph A., Jr- Is also still living as far as I know. In his day, Joe Pelaquin was an extremely talented trick rider and was considered to be the best rider in the family. He and his ex-wife, known as La Vonnie, could actually switch motorcycles while riding side by side on the wall--a stunt that, to my knowledge, has only been done by them. Since the Pelaquin's motor drome was a lion drome in the beginning, the primary responsibility of training the lions fell to Joe Jr. In later years, Joe could be found on bally of his brother Sonny's motor drome as a talker from time to time.6,8,9
Russell James- Born 17 March, 1927 in Brockton. He would marry twice and have 3 children--again, these folks are still living, so no details! Russell rode on the Wall of Death for several years before settling down to a life off the road. He died in Niverville, NY on 11 January 1985.6,7,8,9
Louis A.- Is still living to my knowledge. Like his sister, he did not make wall riding a career.7,8,9
Paul Michael "Sonny"- Paul was born 28 April 1934 in Brockton. Sonny married Edythe Rose Barone on 10 July 1953 in Brockton; he listed his occupation as a shoe worker. The bride was 15 years old; the groom was 19. This marriage produced one child.7
On 5 July 1957, Sonny joined the US Army, where he spent almost 2 years. His DD-214 lists his reason for separation from service as "Early Separation of Overseas Returnees." His marital status was listed as divorced. He spent some time living near Chicago, IL after his Army discharge, where he married a second time and had 2 more children. Some time after this marriage ended, he returned to the motor drome. He met his 3rd wife, Judith Atwell, in Richmond, VA. They had no offspring, but they had many, many "kids" that they took under their wing and into their fold. My brother and I are lucky enough to be included in that number.7,9
Ill health caused Sonny to give up drome riding and take a position managing a horse farm; eventually even that became too much. Diabetes and heart trouble took its toll--and eventually, his life. Sonny died in Atlantis, Florida at John F. Kennedy Hospital on March 1, 2002.7,9
Judy took care of Sonny tirelessly, endlessly, and selflessly; and hid the extent of her own ill health. After Sonny's death, Judy deteriorated rapidly. She died less than 3 months later, on 27 May 2002 in Richmond, Virginia.--where she had been taken by Samantha Morgan and Russ Noel because she wanted to be near her family.9
Frank- Born on 9 September 1936, Frank was called "Toolie" as a child. He also spent a fair amount of time riding the walls in the motor drome, but I have no details of this as I never met Frankie. He died in Tampa, FL on 18 November 2005.5,9
The early years of the marriage were probably hectic for Viola. Her mother had died three years before and her father, who never remarried, had 4 children ranging in ages from 12-3 years of age. It is reasonable to assume that Viola continued to help care for her brothers and sisters for a few years, anyway. The 1930 census shows Joe and Viola Pelaquin and their first 3 children living on Beacon St. in Brockton. In the apartment building across the street lived Viola's father and his children in an apartment, and Joe's mother Annie in another.6
My father, Joe Noel, son of Viola's brother, recalls a lot of alcohol consumption in this branch of the family; but these recollections also indicated that the family was close and spent a lot of time together. There seemed to be a shortage of money for a number of years. I don't know when the family started the motor drome, but records from 1930-1934 show Joe Pelaquin being employed as a taxi driver. The state of the family's finances is best illustrated by a story my dad told me about a particular Thanksgiving:My dad (who was known as Sonny Noel at the time) said that he, Sonny Pelaquin, and their other cousin, Sonny Richardson, were all about 10 years old (they'd all been born in 1934 and they all got the nickname "Sonny")on this Thanksgiving, so it must have been around 1944. Their parents had pooled their money to buy stuff for Thanksgiving dinner, but didn't have enough to buy a turkey. The Sonny's got together and came up with a way to solve this problem.8
Back in that era, large cities like Brockton had big hotels that cooked meals for their guests every evening. Since it was Thanksgiving, the hotels would be cooking lots of turkeys--and setting them out on the porch off the kitchen to cool for a few minutes before carving.
So the boys hid under the porch of one of the hotels and waited. And as soon as one of the turkeys were set on the porch and the cook was out of sight, they darted out, grabbed the turkey, and ran off down the alley! However, they forgot one thing--that a turkey fresh out of the oven would be HOT!!! Too hot for them to hold onto. So they continued to run, through the alleys of Brockton, passing the turkey back and forth between the three of them until they got it back home! Apparently, the families enjoyed a pretty good Thanksgiving that year. It's all about teamwork!!!
Dad recalled that when the Pelaquin family got into the motor drome business in earnest, times got better.8
After losing track of each other for decades, cousins Sonny Pelaquin and my father, Joe Noel crossed paths in the mid-1970's in Lantana, Florida, where our family lived at the time. My brother, Russ, happened upon Sonny's motorcycle show while it was set up in a grocery store parking lot along with a few other rides from Deggeller Amusemnt Co. Dad had told us stories for years about his cousins who rode motorcycles on a wall, so Russ told Dad about it being there. Dad went and took a look; and it turned out to be Sonny.9
Russ had his own motorcycle at the time, so Sonny began going trail riding with him. Sonny saw some potential in Russ and began training him to ride on the Wall during summer when school was out. Russ was billed as the "Nation's Youngest Daredevil" for years, and learned to trick ride as well. Guess it goes to show that natural aptitude and talent can spread itself freely along family lines!9
This reunion of the cousins allowed the two Sonnys-Noel and Pelaquin-to resume the close family relationship they had enjoyed as children. Sonny and Dad spent many an afternoon playing cribbage together on the back porch of our house in Ocala, Fla. In my mind, I can still hear them tallying their scores--"Fifteen two, fifteen four, a pair is six...." Now I have no idea what that means, as I never could get the hang of playing. But I heard it a lot.9
Viola Noel died of heart complications in 1953 according to an e-mail that I received from one of her grandsons.9
Joe Pelaquin Sr died in 1982--the day before Christmas. "Old Joe", as he was known, was a delightful man with a great sense of humor. He attended my 18th birthday party in 1976 and showed that his wit was sharp as ever!7,9
1. Birth records from New England Historic Genealogical Society
2. Marriage records from New England Historic Genealogical Society
3. Death records from New England Historic Genealogical Society
4. "Our French Canadian Ancestors", Volume 3 by Thomas Laforest
5. Social Security Death Index (SSDI)
6. Census records
7. Personal Papers of Sonny Pelaquin (copies of family documents & news clippings)
8. Personal recollections of Joseph R. Noel, Jr.
9. Personal recollections of the webmaster.
This page was updated March 2010. .
Noel Family of Brockton, MA by Jolynn Noel Winland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License
What does this mean?