Chapter 11: The Collectible Nellie Bly
Friday: Nellie made it to San Francisco on time despite storms. But they’ve lost the bill of health and, without it, nobody will be allowed off the ship until a new one arrives from Japan!
Nellie was in a panic, but, fortunately, the officer was not. He took another look and finally found the bill of health in the ship’s doctor’s desk.
A tugboat came out and Nellie, her luggage and the monkey were placed in it. As the tug pulled away, the quarantine doctor who had just come aboard shouted after her that he had forgotten to examine her tongue and she could not go ashore until he had seen it. She stuck it out at him, the people on the Oceana laughed and the doctor called “All right!”
Nellie was back in the United States, where a special train waited to take her back to New York by a southern route that would avoid the snow-choked passes of the Rockies.
“I only remember my trip across the continent as one maze of happy greetings, happy wishes, congratulating telegrams, fruit, flowers, loud cheers, wild hurrahs, rapid hand-shaking and a beautiful car filled with fragrant flowers attached to a swift engine that was tearing like mad through flower dotted valley and over snow-tipped mountain, on-on-on! It was glorious!” she wrote.
Indeed, at that moment, Nellie Bly was the most famous woman in America. Crowds turned out to greet her at every station, and every bit of luck seemed now on her side: Her train raced across a bridge under repair that collapsed after they crossed. At another point, they changed engines just in time, because the engine left behind lost a wheel right afterwards.
Nothing had stopped her in foreign lands and nothing would stop her now. A crowd of 10,000 met her in Topeka. At one stop, the band came to the station but was so excited they just stood and cheered instead of playing their instruments.
She paused in Chicago for lunch with the Press Club, but was so early it had to be breakfast. She visited the Chicago Board of Trade and looked down on the floor, where brokers milled about shouting their orders, until one of them looked up and said “There’s Nellie Bly!”
“In one instant, the crowd that had been yelling like mad became so silent that a pin could have been heard fall to the floor,” she wrote. “Every face, bright and eager, was turned up towards us, instantly every hat came off, and then a burst of applause resounded through the immense hall.”
The brokers gave three cheers for Nellie Bly, and she was off again to the east, but not before she got an important telegram: A message of congratulations from Jules Verne and his wife.
The stationmaster in Columbus said the crowds for Nellie were larger than they had been for Presidents Cleveland or Harrison. There was another crowd in her hometown of Pittsburgh, and in Philadelphia, where her mother boarded the train to travel to Jersey City.
There, on January 25, 1890, Nellie Bly stepped off the train at exactly 3:51 p.m.
The time of her journey: 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes and 14 seconds.
As for Elizabeth Bisland, the reporter who was trying to beat her by traveling in the other direction, she had missed the tight connections Nellie had so hurried to make in Europe. Bisland was hopelessly behind, and nearly forgotten.
Nellie’s fame had been building throughout her trip. The World and other papers had kept up with the brief cables she sent from one port after another, while reporters at The World wrote about the countries she was visiting so readers could imagine that they were along.
Now they were about to get the full story from the famous reporter herself, first in the pages of The World, later as a hot-selling book with Nellie’s picture on the cover.
And that wasn’t all. There had been a contest to guess exactly how long her trip would take, and the World received well over half a million entries. The winner came within two-fifths of a second of her exact time; 116 others were within 15 seconds.
The World ran an illustration of a new board game, “Round the World with Nellie Bly.” There were Nellie Bly trading cards. Clothing stores ran ads for Nellie Bly caps. A race horse was named for her. Drinking glasses carried her picture.
One hundred souvenir photos of Nellie sold out a $5 each, to raise money for the Washington Memorial Arch in New York. Nellie spoke of her adventures to filled auditoriums.
And The World, of course, enjoyed some of its best newsstand sales ever. Joseph Pulitzer sent a telegraph with his congratulations and promised her a wonderful gift.
But the gift never came. In fact, for all the excitement in the pages of The World, there seemed very little excitement in the newsroom itself.
Not only was there no gift from Joseph Pulitzer, but there was no raise in Nellie’s salary, not even a bonus like the one she had received for the Madhouse series.
It seemed to her that nobody at The World thought she’d done such a big thing after all.
And so Nellie Bly, the most famous woman in America, the world’s greatest reporter, walked away from Joseph Pulitzer’s World for a job she hoped would be more fun: She signed a contract with a weekly publication, “New York Family Story Paper,” to write newspaper serial stories for young readers.
Tuesday: Challenges and Changes