Month: July 2014

Music for Nellie Bly


A new work by composer Samantha Boshnack – inspired by the life of daredevil, feminist, journalist and iconoclast Nellie Bly (1864 – 1922).


Samantha Boshnack

Sam Boshnack has taken on the next large scale project for her Quintet – a narrative work inspired by the life of 19th century investigative journalist Nellie Bly.

“Both as a young girl and today, Nellie Bly greatly inspires me,” says Sam. “A reporter at a time when women were not welcome into journalism, she was a fiery and persistent individual who worked within extreme confines to achieve great things for both the subjects she covered (including mental health and prison facilities), and for women in her field.”

Sam has created a work in four movements highlighting stages and elements of Bly’s personality and career:

 “Early Years” establishing her voice – combining elements of punky irreverence, with a yearning to deeply understand the human experience and its unfairness

“Asylum Expose” exploring her extreme efforts to write about the atrocities of a mental asylum

“72 Days” tackling her race around the globe to beat Jules Verne’s fictional record, while the world cheered her on. Listen to 72 Days here.

The piece concludes with “Lasting Legacy” – an homage to Bly and the impact she made to those who came after her.

Sam combines exploration of Bly’s life with propulsion from her words, incorporating quotes and segments from her books as spoken and sung elements within the suite. In addition to the music-based work, Boshnack hopes this concert will be an opportunity to educate the public about the life of this impactful, yet mostly unknown, iconoclast.

72 Days – is based on Nellie Bly’s book Around the World in Seventy-Two Days, in which she set out on a race around the world to beat Jules Verne’s fictional record, while the whole world watched and cheered her on. The idea for this story was hers, but she had to fight hard to make it happen because her editors did not believe it could be done.

The two telling quotes I extracted from her book are – “It’s only a matter of 28,000 miles… I shall be back again” and “I would rather go in dead and successful than alive and behind time.”

Once again we see Nellie being unaffected by the immense task before her and with an absolute conviction that she would succeed. The two methods of transport available to her were railroad and steamship – I have incorporated the rhythmic elements of these modes into the music as well.

All pieces performed by The Sam Boshnack Quintet featuring Samantha Boshnack (trumpet/voice), Beth Fleenor (clarinets/voice), Dawn Clement (piano/keyboard/voice), Isaac Castillo (bass/voice) and Max  Wood (drums)

Used by kind permission of  Samantha Boshnack

Racing Around the World Nellie Bly-style


Be ready to go at a moment’s notice…and don’t take no for an answer

Nellie portrait

Nellie Bly

Nellie’s story idea to race round the globe faster than Phileas Fogg sat on The New York World newspaper editor’s desk for a year.  Suddenly on 12 November 1889 Nellie was asked if she could start her journey ‘the day after tomorrow.” I can start this minute,” she said. When Nellie first introduced her ’round the world’ feature idea, her editor insisted that ‘only a man’ could do it. Nellie told him to assign a male; but she would take her idea to another paper and win the race. He conceded. In Nellie’s day, no-one would send a young woman to the far corners of the earth without a chaperone. In any case, the numerous trunks required by a female traveller would prevent the speedy connections necessary to win the race.

Pack lightly

Nellie took a small satchel (17.8 x 40.6 cms) and wore the same dress throughout the journey.

nellie's satchel at newseum

Nellie’s travel satchel

“One never knows the capacity of an ordinary hand satchel until dire necessity completes the exercise of all one’s ingenuity to reduce everything to the smallest possible compass,” she said.

She dismissed decorum.

“If one is travelling simply for the sake of travelling, and not for the purpose of impressing one’s fellow passengers, the problem of baggage becomes a very simple one. On one occasion–in Hong Kong when I was asked to an official dinner–I regretted not having an evening dress with me, but the loss of that dinner was a very small matter when compared with the responsibilities and worries I escaped by not having a lot of trunks and boxes to look after.”

She could have packed lighter.

“After, experience showed me that I had taken too much, rather than too little baggage.”

 But don’t forget your camera “The only regret of my trip, and one I could never cease to deplore, was that in my hasty departure, I forgot to take a Kodak.” Take (even more) risks                                                                                                                                                                  Nellie was only eight days into the race when she received word that Jules Verne, the author that inspired her own voyage with his novel Around the World in 80 days, wanted to meet her at his home in Amiens, France.


Jules Verne

That would require a time-guzzling deviation threatening her success right from the start, not to mention two nights without sleep. She did it.

“Before I had been many minutes in their company, they had won my everlasting respect and devotion,” Nellie said of Jules Verne and his wife Honorine.

The feeling was mutual. Nellie’s visit lives on today in photos and references found in their home, Maison Jules Verne, now a first-rate museum attracting visitors from around the world. You can see where she had tea with the Vernes and view his study, just as it was when Nellie visited. Believe in humanity Nellie was encouraged to carry a revolver on her travel for protection. She refused.

 “I had such a strong belief in the world greeting me as I greeted it that I refused to arm myself.”

When encouraged to use a cane to ‘keep off the beggars’ in Port Said, Egypt, Nellie refused all offers to accept one saying “a stick beats more ugliness into a person than it beat out.” But keep your distance Nellie narrowly escaped death in the South China Sea from a love-sick passenger planning to take her in his arms and jump overboard so they could drift away and drown ‘in peaceful slumber.’ Hurry up and wait  Nellie was delayed five days in Colombo, Ceylon (Sri Lanka). She tempered her intense frustration with sightseeing during the day and balmy evenings at splendid Colonial hotels like the Grand Oriental Hotel that still delight guests. Lounging on the veranda at The Galle Face Hotel, Nellie reflected:

“while listening to the music of the wave, the deep, mellow roar can drift–drift out on dreams that bring what life has failed to give; soothing pictures of the imagination that blot out for a moment the stern disappointment of reality.”

Choose your souvenirs wisely

Nellie acquired a monkey in Singapore that she named McGinty.  McGinty travelled half-way round the world with Nellie, causing chaos on board; and later in her home.

  Make friends along the way

“To so many people this wide world over am I indebted for kindnesses that I cannot thank them all individually. They form a chain around the earth,” said Nellie. “Every kind act and thought, if but an unuttered wish, a cheer, a tiny flower, is imbedded in my memory as one of the pleasantest things of my novel tour.”

Why Nellie? Why Now?

Nellie Bly

Nellie Bly coloured by Loredana Crupi

It’s now 130 years since crusading journalist Nellie Bly raced through a ‘man’s world’ —  alone and literally with the clothes on her back — to beat the fictional record set by Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days. She won the race on 25 January 1890 and became a global celebrity.

125 years later, I set out to follow in her footsteps around the world. A Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society  (RGS), my expedition was registered with RGS and endorsed by Women in Journalism.

We both travelled alone with one small case. She went by ocean liner and train. I flew. She raced, I didn’t. She covered 21,740 miles in 72 days; I completed 22,500 miles in 32 days.

She journeyed through the Victorian age, dashing conventions along the way. I travelled through the Information age, blogging along the way.  She started from New York. I started from London.  We both finished with book-length memories and a profound appreciation for the kindness shown to us everywhere we went.

To this day, she is one of the world’s top 10 female adventurers.

Nellie is best known for her record-breaking journey, but even more importantly she pioneered investigative journalism. Her stories brought about sweeping reforms in asylums, sweatshops, orphanages and prisons. She burst into male-only newsrooms paving the way for women reporters. She was the first journalist to report from the Eastern front in WWI.

I followed in Nellie Bly’s footsteps because I want to put her ‘back on the front page.’

I travelled 6 September – 8 October 2014 — by air  because sea travel is limited by the routes available and hostilities occurring in some locations.  Which is why I named the blog ‘Nellie Bly in the Sky.’

I was back in time for the 125th anniversary of the start of her world race on 14 November 1889 and her triumphant return to New York on 25 January 1890.

Please read the blog posts at the right to follow in the footsteps of Nellie Bly.

I travelled on the same 7 am train to Kandy from Colombo, Sri Lanka as Nellie Bly.