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Letters From Home: Her Great-Great-Grandmother Helps Her Through This Pandemic

photo of Lizzie Lape (left) who disappeared during the 1918 flu pandemic, when it ravaged Ohio. photot Deb L. Lape (right, three from right) can't help but think of her great-great grandmother during this time. She disappeared at the same age Deb is now.
Courtesy of Debra L. Lape
Lizzie Lape (left) disappeared during the 1918 flu pandemic. Debra L. Lape (right photo, third from the right) in a recent family photo.

As part of WOSU's Letters from Home series, Debra Lape of Avon in Lorain County shared her story about an infamous relative from her family's history.

Her great-great-grandmother Lizzie Lape lived in Ohio as well, as the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic spread across the country. 

“She was a notorious mid-Ohio madam,” Lape says. “She owned and operated houses in Columbus, Dayton, Lima, Marion, Akron, Mt. Gilead, Cuyahoga Falls and Shelby.”

Lape has long been fascinated with Lizzie's life. She wrote a book about Lizzie in 2014 titled Looking for Lizzie: The True Story of an Ohio Madam, Her Sporting Life and Hidden Legacy.

But she says the coronavirus pandemic has made her feel even closer to her ancestor.

“I relate to her particularly because this year, I’m 64-years-old, and it’s the exact same age Lizzie was when she disappeared in June of 1918,” says Lape.

Lape says she’s not exactly sure what happened to her great-great-grandmother, but there are some clues. Lizzie Lape had sold her farm in Warren Township in 1917, and move to New Philadelphia.

“I think the move might have been the thing that killed her, because the Spanish Flu was mostly non-existent in the farm communities, at least I could not find records of stories in the newspapers there,” says Lape.

But it boomed in cities.

“The seemingly first case in New Philadelphia was noted in papers in September of 1918, just three months after she disappeared,” Lape adds.

Lape says the lessons of Lizzie instruct her now.

“Her last years of her life were spent with her family, caring for her family, encouraging her family in every way she could,” Lape says. “It was all about family and it still is all about family, and taking care of each other.”

Read more Letters from Home and submit your own letter here.

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.