Naming Rights and the Surname “Rappe”
Greg Merritt, in Room 1219, was the first to publish Virginia Rappe’s correct birth date, July 7, 1891, based on a live birth recorded for one Mabel Rapp in Chicago. During the Arbuckle case and ever since, Virginia Rappe is given credit for changing her own name. In reality, it was her mother who changed the family name to Rappe.
A color facsimile of Mabel’s 1905 New York City death certificate clearly indicates the deceased’s surname as Rappé. The accent was probably inserted by the attending physician to indicate the preferred pronunciation—or how he heard it from Mabel’s survivors, Virginia Rappe and her putative grandmother, who also went by Virginia Rappe.
The death certificate has handwritten entries and when it was transcribed by the New York City Health Department, the typist interpreted the é as a lowercase, dotted letter i.
For this reason, such genealogical sites as Ancestry.com and FamilyResearch.com repeat the mistake, identifying the deceased as “Mabel Rappi.” This surname is very rare and required some more due diligence. We requested the source document, which also has more information about what killed Virginia Rappe’s mother when she and her family lived in Hell’s Kitchen between 1900 and 1905.
Rappe likely served as Mabel’s professional name as an entertainer and to obscure the notoriety “Mabel Rapp” had in Chicago and New York in 1899, when she was identified in many newspapers as the moll of a Chicago-based check forgery ring.