Woman of the World: The Story of Nellie Bly - Chapter 8

Chapter 8: Around the World!

Tuesday: Nellie has become famous, but now other "girl stunt reporters" are being hired and competing with her. She has an idea for a spectacular story, but the editors aren't sure she can do it.

A year had passed when Nellie got a note asking her to come to the editor's office. Col. Cockerill had a very simple question for her: "Can you start around the world the day after tomorrow?"

"I can start this minute," she replied. But there really were a few things she had to do first.

At 11 o'clock the next morning, she went to a dressmaker and explained what she needed: A dress that would last, and look good, if it were worn every day for nearly three months. By one o'clock, she had her first fitting. By five o'clock, the dress was finished.

Meanwhile, she had bought a coat and matching "deer stalker" type of cap that would become famous for her, now, and later, for the fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes.

And she bought her luggage for the trip: A single bag, 16 inches long and seven inches high, into which she packed everything she would need for 79 days, not 80. She didn't plan on her trip taking 80 days.

Nellie packed a silk blouse, a flask and drinking cup, cuffs and collars to go with her dress, two caps, three veils, a pair of slippers, a toilet kit, a light blazer, a dressing gown, underwear, handkerchiefs, a jar of cold cream, and a temporary passport. By the time she got to London, they'd be ready to issue her a permanent passport at the American embassy.

She could have traveled even lighter, she wrote later, but hadn't been sure if she would be able to purchase what she needed as she went. Still, there was no need for trunks.

"If one is traveling simply for the sake of traveling and not for the purpose of impressing one's fellow passengers, the problem of baggage becomes a very simple one," she said.

On Thursday, November 14, 1889, at 9:40:30 in the morning, Nellie Bly set out to circle the globe.

She began with seven days on a ship to England, and immediately became seasick.

But she refused to stay in bed like the other seasick passengers. Though she had to run out of the room three times, she still sat at the captain's table for dinner the first night and tried to eat. Everyone applauded when she came back the last time, just as they were finishing, and Nellie joked that she thought the meal had been very good.

By the next day, her seasickness had vanished.

When the ship arrived at Southampton, England, The World's London correspondent was at the dock to meet her and help her get through the next part of the trip.

And he had news.

"Mr. and Mrs. Jules Verne have sent a special letter asking that if possible you will stop to see them," he said.

"Oh, how I would like to see them!" Nellie replied. "Isn't it hard to be force to decline such a treat?"

"If you are willing to go without sleep and rest for two nights, I think it can be done," he said.

"Safely? Without making me miss any connections? If so, don't think about sleep or rest," said Nellie Bly.

They took a train to London, where Nellie got her permanent passport, then went to the offices of a steamship company to get tickets for the next parts of her trip. She was able to nap on the train to the seaport, where they caught a ferry to Boulogne, France.

Another train took them to Amiens, where the bestselling author, Jules Verne, lived. Verne, his wife and a reporter from a French newspaper met them at the train station and took them by carriage to the Verne home.

With the French reporter translating, Nellie managed to combine a friendly visit with a quick interview of the author whose work had inspired her adventure.

He told her he got the idea for his novel from a newspaper article, and they talked about how Nellie's planned route compared with that of Verne's fictional hero. They went up a spiral staircase and Verne showed her the small, plain study where he did his work.

Then he took her into his library. In the hall outside the library was a large map on the wall, showing Phileas Fogg's route around the world as Jules Verne had traced it to help him write his novel. Now he took out a pencil and marked the map again, showing the route Nellie Bly would take in making the trip for real.

It was a very pleasant visit, and, in the story the World's London correspondent wrote after Nellie had raced away, Verne was quoted as saying, "I was delighted to see her; and so, too, was Madame Verne, who has never ceased speaking of her since."

But Nellie had a train to catch, and she barely made it in time. Now she was off across France and down Italy to Brindisi, just at the instep of the boot, where she would catch a ship through the Suez Canal and to Ceylon.

She found her cabin and put her bag on board. Then one of the ship's security guards took her ashore to find a telegraph station so she could report back to New York.

It took the telegraph operator a few minutes to figure out where New York was and how to route a cable to arrive there, but they finally sent her message and she stepped outside just in time to hear a terrible sound: The whistle of a ship as it began to pull away from the dock!

"My heart stopped beating," Nellie wrote later. The guard looked at her and said, "Can you run?"

Thursday: Nellie in the Middle East

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