Something was gnawing at me today – a name I see every time I help conduct cemetery tours at Woodlawn Cemetery in West Palm Beach – an unusual name belonging to a woman whose husband is among the most well-known local pioneers. Charles W. Pierce, of Barefoot Mailman fame and chronicler of local history, married a woman named Yallahs Lizette Wallack February 26, 1896 in Lemon City, north of Miami.
It was said she was from Jamaica, but nothing more was known of her. I surmised she was named for the Yallahs river in Jamaica. The 1910 federal census entry for Yallahs states that both her parents were born in England. Yallahs died early at age 47, February 14, 1922. Articles had mentioned she was treated for an illness at Jacksonville and at Johns Hopkins, and was not expected to live.
I began to search for Jamaican records in various sources such as Familysearch.org and general Google searches. A most unusual story emerged, pieced together which told of her famous parents. I found the first clue in a book by Errol Hill titled “The Jamaican Stage, 1655-1900.” In it, Hill told the story of Walter Hope “Watty” Wallack, born January 23, 1830, a traveling showman from Liverpool, England who was a one-man production of comedy, singing and acting involving dozens of characters he would portray on stage.
The book mentions his many stops in Jamaica, with his young wife, Fannie Wallack. Searching their names revealed that Fannie Wallack died of malaria when only 30, and her obituary helped to crack the case. Fannie Louise Petersen was born in London, England May 1, 1854. She traveled with her parents to St. Kitts, where her father, Peter Petersen, a native of Sweden, had a mercantile house. Fannie’s musical talents were known very early, with her beautiful soprano voice. She first appeared with Watty Wallack at the age of 10, and married him when Fannie was 15 in the Cathedral of St. John’s, Antigua.
Together with Watty Wallack and his cousin the comedian James A. Rider, the three formed the group “The Wallack Tripologue.” They toured the Carribbean, South America and the American South. In 1872, Yallahs Wallack was born in Jamaica, probably as her parents were on tour, and her emigration date to America was listed as 1874.
In 1880, Yallahs appears on the federal census as living in Key West at the age of 8 (listed as the phonetic “Alice Wallack”), with the Patterson family, one of Key West’s most important families. Fannie Wallack died in Kingston, Jamaica, November 26, 1885 at the age of 30. Her obituary mentions “She leaves one child, a daughter thirteen years old, who is at college in Key West, Fla.” It could be that Yallahs was boarding with the family while attending school in Key West.
Fannie Wallack and her troupe were renowned on the stage. In 1881, they played a six-month stint at Vercelli’s Theatre on East 42nd street in New York City. Fannie could sing in seven languages, and was much loved for her singing, dancing and elaborate costumes. The resemblance between Yallahs and her mother in the illustration below are striking.
After Fannie’s death, Watty Wallack continued to tour with his cousin and managed the Heine Concert Hall. Watty Wallack died in St. Louis, Missouri, July 26, 1901 at age 71 with cousin James A. Rider by his side. The obituary stated “In recent years they lost their fortunes. Captain Rider is now in St. Luke’s Hospital, prostrated with grief over the death of his friend.”
Yallahs eventually moved to Lemon City where she met and married Charles W. Pierce, and the couple moved to Boynton at its beginning.
They had one child, Charles Leon “Chuck” Pierce, one of the first babies to be born in Boynton, who had a long career in banking. The Pierce family lived on Ocean Avenue, where Yallahs passed away. She now rests at Woodlawn Cemetery, with Charles by her side.