In less than 80 days around the world in 1889 - the journalists Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland start their “race around the world”
“I said I could and I would. And I did.” (Nellie Bly)
“Ten Days in a Mad-House”, published in 1887, was an early example of investigative journalism exposing the shocking conditions in the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island and made the “New York World” reporter Nellie Bly’s reputation. A year later, she approached her editor with the idea of beating Phileas Fogg, the “World’s” owner, Joseph Pulitzer, was all for it and finally, on November 14, 1889, at 9:40 a.m., she boarded the Hamburg-America Line’s record breaker “Augusta Victoria” to Southampton for the first leg of her journey that would take her 25.000 miles around the world, equipped with a plaid coat, 1 (in words: one) dress, a change of underwear, a sponge bag and 200 Pounds Sterling. A few hours later, Elizabeth Bisland, recruited by the new “Cosmopolitan’s” editor John Brisben Walker just a day before, left New York on a westward-bound train to take up the chase in the reverse direction. They would miss each other around December 25th in Hong Kong for three days, the first time that Nellie Bly learned that she had a competitor. The “World’s” rather loud media coverage of her journalist’s journey, with its “Nellie Bly Guessing Match” contest offering a free trip to Europe along with spending money and almost daily updates received via telegraph from her various waypoints around the world quite overshadowed Bisland’s attempt, ignored by Pulitzer’s paper while “Cosmo” was famously published monthly only.
|Nellie Bly's reception in New York, 1890|
Bly met with Jules Verne in Amiens on 23 November 1889, the author, aged 61, allegedly said to his wife when he first saw the 22-years old Nellie: “Is it possible that this child is traveling around the world alone? Why, she is a mere baby." And when she described the route she was about to take, with Brindisi, Port Said, Ismailia, Suez, Aden, Colombo, Penang, Singapore, Hong Kong, Yokohama, San Francisco and back in New York still to go, Verne asked: "But why do you not go to Bombay as Phileas Fogg did?" and Nellie Bly countered: "Because I am anxious to save time, not a young widow." Despite being rather focussed, Jules Verne didn’t believe she would beat his hero’s fictional record, but she did. Nellie Bly completed her journey in seventy-two days and six hours. Elizabeth Bisland returned after 76 days and it might or might not be that Pulitzer had something to do with a delay she had in Southampton, forcing her to catch a slower boat back across the pond. Nevertheless, both women had accomplished a remarkable feat, even though Bisland was, by and large forgotten, while Nellie Bly is remembered, deservedly, as the mother of investigative journalism.
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