Friday, November 9, 2012

OUR BELOVED CHILDREN - David and Beatrice Lepavsky

I have mentioned before how moved I am whenever I encounter the grave of a child.  I am not a parent, but I cannot imagine a bigger tragedy for a parent than the death of a child.  This week we will look at a family that experienced this tragedy times two - the death of two children - eight days apart.

A recent Sunday afternoon trip to Jewish Waldheim Cemetery found me with a long list of Find a Grave photo requests.  I love doing these because it gives me an opportunity to help people and also takes me to parts of the cemetery where I would not normally go.  To those of you who are not familiar with it, Jewish Waldheim is a loose "union" of over 300 individual cemeteries from a time when Jews were either buried with other members of their synagogue or other members of a burial society, often from a particular village or region.

I was wandering through the rows of Gate #16 (Anshe Knesses Israel #2) when I came across the following tombstone:

The top of the stone said "Our Beloved Children" and marked the grave of 2 year old Beatrice Lepavsky who died October 17, 1918 and her almost-six-year-old brother David Lepavsky who died 8 days later on October 25, 1918.  I suspected that they were victims of the Spanish Influenza epidemic and I was correct.  Here is the death certificate for Beatrice:

And here's the one for David:

Both had been victims of influenza coupled with pneumonia.  In most cases it was not the influenza that caused death, it was the pneumonia that set in afterward.

What can we find out about the family of Beatrice and David Lepavsky? Let's look.  We can see from their death certificates that Beatrice and David were the children of Harry Lepavsky from Russia and his wife Esther (nee Lapping), also from Russia.  

Harry Lepavsky was born February 11, 1886 in Russia.  In the 1910 Census he said he emigrated in 1887; in the 1930 census he said he emigrated in 1890.  Either way, the 1900 Census found him living with his parents Isaac and Rachel (nee Soboroff) and his seven brothers and sisters:  Michael, Louis, Jacob, Malky, Lazar, Hody, and Moses at 177 West 12th Place, in the heart of the old Jewish neighborhood.  Harry listed his occupation as "Cap Maker".  

On January 26, 1912 twenty-five year old Harry Lepavsky was married to twenty year old Esther Lapping by Rabbi Ephraim Epstein, Senior Rabbi of Anshe Knesses Israel just before they moved into their magnificent new building on Douglas Boulevard.  

Esther Lapping was born in Russia in 1892.  In each of the 1910, 1920 and 1930 Census she said she emigrated in 1890(!!!)  She was the daughter of Isidore and Pessie (nee Grace).  Esther, too came from a large family.  She was one of eleven children.  Esther's siblings were: Anna, Ida, Abraham, Lena, Dora, Tillie, Meyer, Harry, Minnie, and Louis.  

Once Harry and Esther were married they started on their own family:  David was born on November 10, 1912 

and Beatrice was born on September 6, 1916.

When studying the history of this era, deaths from Spanish Influenza show up again and again.   In a question to the website Gapers Block: ( about the Spanish Influenza on its effect is Chicago, the response was:

"It was the deadliest epidemic in recorded history, claiming as many lives in just one year as the Bubonic Plague claimed in four during the Black Death of the mid-14th century. And yet it is hardly remembered today. The Spanish Influenza of 1918-19 killed between 21 and 40 million people worldwide. In the U.S. alone, an estimated 640,000 people died while another 25 million were infected. In Chicago, more than 8,500 lives were lost to the disease in just eight weeks." Shockingly, the fatality rate for the disease was nearly 70 percent, and it took its biggest toll on the young.  Some research suggests that there had been a mild flu epidemic in the 1880s that may have caused people who were adults in 1918 to have a limited immunity from the Spanish flu.

And again from Gapers Block:  "Precautions against the disease were primitive and largely ineffective. In Chicago, public funerals were banned, and private funerals were limited to 10 people -- including the undertaker.  Bars, dance halls, and movie theaters were closed, but churches and schools remained open. Public spitters were arrested. Businesses were asked to stagger their working days to reduce rush-hour crowds on public transportation.

In the end, 300,000 people were affected by the Spanish Influenza in the state of Illinois. The last reported cases of the disease occurred in the first couple of months of 1920. The epidemic ended not because any cure had been found, but because the virus mutated again and the deadly Spanish Influenza strain ceased to exist (sort of)." 

Beatrice Lepavsky had been ill for only ten days when she succumbed, her older brother was ill for twelve  days.  Unlike many of their peers, both Beatrice and David had been admitted to Childrens Memorial Hospital but even that was not sufficient to beat the Spanish Influenza. David died at 9:20 in the morning, by sundown that same day he was in his grave.  Beatrice must have died later in the day - her death certificate doesn't say - but she was not buried until the next day.  The deaths were coming so fast that undertakers and gravediggers were stretched to the limit.  In some places people were dying so quickly they even ran out of caskets to put the bodies in.

But life goes on for us all, and it did for the grieving Harry and Esther Lepavsky.  They went on to have three more children:  Alter/Martin (1920-2000), Alvin (1923-1997) and Hazel (1925-2000).   Harry went on to become the foreman of the cap factory, and died in 1973 at the age of 86.  I was unable to find a death record for Esther Lepavsky.  She may have changed her last name as some of her children did (to "Lee") or she may have remarried.  I think it is safe to say that Esther has gone on to her reward by now.

May Beatrice

and David Lepavsky

and their grieving family rest in peace.

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