This Woman Traveled Around the World in 72 Days—125 Years Ago

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This Woman Traveled Around the World in 72 Days—125 Years Ago
How an intrepid reporter circled the world in less than 80 days—with just one handbag.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
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    A Daring Pursuit
    Thanks to such novels as Around the World in 80 Days, Jules Verne (1828-1905) was once one of the world’s most popular writers. In addition to stage adaptations and movies, that book about Phileas Fogg’s journey inspired a fearless reporter to take one of the great trips of the 19th century. Reporter Elizabeth Jane Cochrane, better known by her pen name Nellie Bly, told her editor at the New York World newspaper that she could beat that accomplishment. She said 75 days would be enough. The editor balked. A young woman would need a chaperone and many trunks for such an extended trip. Bly finally persuaded him that she could handle it on her own—and without any trunks. On November 14, 1889, she set sail for London. Here are some photographs from her journey. She traveled without a camera or photographer, so these photos illustrate what some of her journey would have looked like, more than 125 years ago.
    Courtesy of the Library of Congress
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    Setting Sail
    Although most of her journey depended on large ships and railroads, Bly had never sailed before. She spent the first week of her trip fighting seasickness, armed with the optimism of youth: She was 25 years old.
    Courtesy of the Library of Congress
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    The Ultimate Carry-On
    Learning that Jules Verne had asked to meet her, Bly took the time to stop by his home in France. He had written, “It was all very well for an Englishman like Mr. Fogg to make the tour of the world with a carpet-bag; a lady could not be expected to travel comfortably under such conditions,” so he must have been surprised to discover that Bly’s luggage for her trip consisted of a small bag she could easily carry (16 inches by 7 inches).
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    Not the Most Luxurious Transportation
    Ever mindful of the need for speed but dependent on public transport systems, Bly sped through Europe by mail train, which stopped only for coal and water. Bly noted, “I might have seen more while traveling through France if the car windows had been clean. From their appearance I judged that they had never been washed.” At Brindisi, Italy, she embarked for the Suez Canal (shown here) on a ship woefully short on service. “Passing through what looked like an enormous ditch” of nearly 90 miles took an entire day.
    Courtesy of the Library of Congress
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    Getting In Some Sights
    Rather than directly copy the route in the novel, Bly made a few adjustments, such as bypassing India and instead heading for Colombo, Ceylon. Although her focus was on speed, not sightseeing, Bly did see an orangutan in Penang, Malaysia, and visit a leper colony in Canton, China. After traveling through a monsoon to reach Hong Kong (pictured here), she took the brand-new tram to the top of Victoria Peak.
    Courtesy of the Library of Congress
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    No Selfies
    Japan impressed Bly more than any other country she visited. Recalling its beauty, she noted, “The only regret of my trip, and one I can never cease to deplore, was that in my hasty departure I forgot to take a Kodak. On every ship and at every port I met others–and envied them–with Kodaks. They could photograph everything that pleased them.” In 1889, the Kodak camera was a new and expensive ($25) sensation.
    Courtesy of the Library of Congress
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    Almost There!
    Weather threw delays into her tight schedule, but after crossing the Pacific to land in San Francisco on January 21, Bly knew she would be able to complete her journey in 75 days or less. Her newspaper arranged a special train for her to make sure she did.
    Courtesy of the Library of Congress
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    A Cross-Country Whirlwind
    As Bly crossed the nation, stopping in small cities (Topeka) and large (Chicago), huge crowds greeted her.
    Courtesy of the Library of Congress
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    Mission Accomplished
    Nellie Bly was an American heroine by the time she arrived in New York, just a few hours over 72 days after she began. This “Around the World” board game tracing her trip appeared in the New York World on January 26, 1890. She had traveled more than 21,700 miles.
    Courtesy of the Library of Congress
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