The masts were solemnly lowered as the anchor was triumphantly docked in at a Hoboken harbor in New Jersey. Then there appeared a young woman with eyes of brilliance that glowed with joy and alacrity of departure from her race against the time. One hundred thirty-one years ago today was when one steely journalist named Nellie Bly broke the boundary of imagination and reality by completing her round-the-world race in 72 days at New Jersey. Bly’s phenomenal record was indeed transcendent of the realm of fictitious reality where Phileas Fogg, Jules Verne’s creation of gentleman adventurer, finished his globe-trotting in 80 days. The world record was not only a sensational media headline in her time but also a glowing manifestation of grit, resilience, and the power of the mind that Bly demonstrated on herself as a woman.
Born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in 1864 in a small Pennsylvania mill town, Nellie Bly was her catchy nom de plume for the literary world, where she became successful. She was something of a frontier pioneer woman in investigative journalism and adventuring into unpathed areas of news reporting of the Dickensian world of crime and health bureaucracy, notably of the asylum at Blackwell’s Island in New York where she infiltrated as an undercover. However, a panoply of her achievements backfired when her pent-up yearning for holidays on a different shore agreed to a spectacular proposal by Joseph Pulitzer, the New York World owner, of the ingenious race-round-the world against the time. Bly’s decision to embark on the one-of-kind adventure was an apropos admixture of personal yearning to get away from the weight of reality and the publisher’s entrepreneurial aim to proliferate circulations.
So there off, she embarked on the race with a trunk containing hygiene necessities, a few wardrobes, and some books to read, but without any weapon, not least because of her belief: “If you smile at the world, the world will smile at you.” She sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from New York, through Europe, the Arabian Sea, and the Far East, and then back across the Pacific to return to the homeland. During the voyage from Hong Kong to Japan, Bly heard that another contender emerged from the oceans’ edges: twenty-eight years old Elizabeth Bisland, the literary editor of Cosmopolitan, a rival publication of The New York World. Always achieving, always forwarding, Bly hastened to complete her race guarded by the goddess of fortune and blessed by Jules Verne, whom she met during the race in Europe and was able to trounce her rival journalist arriving five days earlier and Philias Fogg eight days.
Bly was a supreme one of a kind, not most because she was a woman reporter who was some rarity. Instead, she was a person of indomitable determination, commendable work ethic, and insatiable curiosity, which were coveted attributes even to men of high aspiration. Bly demonstrated the Nietzschean will to power in her achievement by the epiphany of the noble soul to create capabilities to make the idea into an incredible and remarkable reality in the chapter of humankind’s history. Herodotus would have loved to record it.