An author with Plain City connections is coming to town.
Debra Lape, the author of “Looking for Lizzie: The True Story of an Ohio Madam, Her Sporting Life and Hidden Legacy,” will be at Pastime Park doing a book signing during the Bicentennial celebration this month.
The title, author’s name or subject-matter may not make Plain City immediately leap to mind but its connection is solid, if not a little strange.
Who is Lizzie?
Lape, an accountant by trade, lives in the Cleveland suburb of Westlake, just a few miles from the shore of Lake Erie. The knowledge of her connection with the little town 150 miles to the south began nearly 40 years ago with a conversation about family roots.
“When I was 19 years old, I was talking to my grandmother about not being very familiar with one side of the family and I wondered why,” Lape said. “That side of the family was just never really talked about.”
Her grandmother’s response was one Lape did not expect.
“She told me, ‘you’re descended from a madam,’” Lape said.
Debra Lape’s great-great-grandmother, Lizzie Lape — born Amy Elizabeth Rogers in 1853 — had been a “lady of the night” who ran a series of bordellos stretching from Chicago, Illinois to the town of Stow, Ohio — just west of Kent State University.
“This began a fascination with this story that I researched for 40 years,” Lape said. “I found bits and pieces of things about her life over the years and started putting them together.”
Lape said the research really took off once newspaper stories were digitized and easily found in online archives. She first wrote the information as little stories she would put together for her father for fun.
“My father’s wife, my stepmother, actually writes cookbooks,” Lape said. “And when she read these little stories she said, ‘you know, you’re really writing a book.’”
Lape’s stepmother connected her with an editor and the book was eventually published in 2014.
Plain City connection
In Lape’s research, she found multiple connections to the Village of Plain City. She found that Lizzie met a man named Jeremiah Lape who was a customer at her bordello in Chicago. Jeremiah was also constable in Plain City before eventually running for marshal. Jeremiah brought Lizzie to Ohio and they were married for six years before separating — Jeremiah marking the first of eight husbands for Lizzie.
Lizzie spent time in Plain City before moving to northern Ohio where she ran her bordello in Stow.
“We’re also DNA descendants of Dr. Daniel Kathan Bigelow’s family,” Lape said. Dr. Daniel was a brother of Isaac Bigelow, who founded Plain City in 1818.
After discovering all this information, Lape reached out to the members of the Plain City Historical Society to help gather photos and research materials.
“The historical society has been great in this process,” Lape said. “Bernie (Vance), Karen (Vance), and Rosemary (Anderson) have really been invaluable in putting these pieces together.”
Historical society members have invited Lape to ride on their parade float during the village’s Bicentennial celebration later this month.
Lape will also be at Pastime Park on July 21 at 2 p.m. signing copies of her book. She plans to donate all proceeds to the Plain City Historical Society.
“I hope to see lots of people come out to celebrate and I want to encourage people from town that might be descendants of the Bigelow, Custer, Dominy or Norton families to stop and talk,” Lape said. “We may be related.”
Reach Michael Williamson at 740-852-1616, ext. 1619.