A 12-Year-Old Girl Foreshadowed Coronavirus in a Story Written During the Spanish Flu Pandemic

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In 1918, at the height of the Spanish flu pandemic, a children’s newspaper in Winnipeg, Canada held a writing competition for schoolchildren who were stuck at home due to school closures. Among the entries was a story by Jessie Mains, age 12, called “Corona’s Lesson.”

The story tells of a girl named Corona who doesn’t listen when her mother tells her to stay inside to avoid getting sick, and consequently dies of the Spanish flu. 

Clipping of Jessie Mains’s story, “Corona’s Lesson,” published in The Tribune Junior on October 26, 1918

The full text reads:

CORONA’S LESSON

The little girl next door of our house is a very cute little girl, but very careless. Many a time her mother would call her: “Corona, dear, come In the house because it Is damp outside,” but she would answer, never mind I won’t get sick, and as she was the only child she was petted very much. Her mother let her stay outside in the dampness. 

As time passed on an epidemic called the “Spanish flu” broke out and often her mother would tell her to come in because she was afraid of the epidemic. Corona, being careless, did not want to come in the house and unfortunately the happy home became very sorrowful because their little daughter became ill. They tried as hard as they could to save the life of the child but it was all in vain. She did not only kill herself but also her dear mother and daddy. Corona’s last words were: “Obey all things said by elders,” and she passed away. I hope Corona will teach us all a lesson.

Who was Jessie Mains, the 12-year-old girl who so eerily foreshadowed the next global pandemic that would lead to worldwide chaos on such a scale?

Our research team managed to locate some of Jessie’s family members and share her story with them. First they contacted Jessie’s great-nephew, Paul, who currently lives in Alberta. Paul had no idea his great-aunt had written this story and was delighted to hear of our findings. He directed us to Jessie’s nephew Don, who was able to give us more details about Jessie.

“Jessie was the youngest of Charles and Ida Mains’ nine children (and the only one not born in Ukraine). My father, Al Mains, was one of Jesse’s older brothers,” Don wrote. “I knew Jesse quite well. She was intelligent and had a zest for life… I was not aware of the piece she wrote when just 12 years old.”

“Ann Landers was once asked, ‘Do you make up the letters you say you get?’,” Don went on. “Her response: ‘I couldn’t possibly make up these stories.’ Who could have imagined that 102 years ago Aunt Jesse would write about flu and Corona?”

Don was even able to share a photo of Jessie, taken about 5 years before she wrote her story:

Jessie Mains, fourth from the left in the front row.

Don reveals that his Aunt Jessie was bright and capable. She went on to graduate high school and work in various offices, eventually rising to the position of supervisor. He told us that she was a loyal daughter who lived with her parents after all her siblings had moved on, and cared for her mother, Ida, until Ida’s death in 1945, when Jessie was 39 years old. Jessie eventually married a man named Max Lerner, and remained happily married to him until his death. She died in 1989 at the age of 83.

Jessie with her relatives, 1970, standing 4th from the left, with the red scarf.

Writers rarely know when a story they’ve written will resonate decades down the line — much less a 12-year-old girl who wrote a simple story for a writing competition. What would she have said if someone had told her that this story would turn out to be so eerily relevant 102 years later?

“I can only guess,” says Don. “As I mentioned, she was quite intelligent, and with a great interest in what was going on in the world. I think she would have been amazed and surprised that her story would have so much relevance today. I also think she would be quite pleased that so many would be reading her story. Of course,” he adds, “the question I would ask her is how she came up with the name ‘Corona’!”

Did any of your ancestors write and publish interesting stories? Check out MyHeritage’s Newspapers and Books & Publications collections to find out.

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