125th anniversary

Nellie Bly in the Sky: the Book is Out

Nellie Bly in the Sky book cover

Just in time to celebrate the anniversary of the departure of Victorian journalist Nellie Bly on her record-breaking journey around the world 14 November 1889, I am publishing a free e-book capturing the memorable moments of my own commemorative journey. Nellie Bly in the Skythe book, is a compilation of the best of this blog, edited for easy-reading all in one place.  You can download it here.

Re-blazing the ‘Nellie Bly trail, this 39-page PDF format e-book includes photos, edited blogposts and appendices so you can follow Nellie and me without interruption if you wish.

In a tribute on the title page, Matthew Goodman, author of bestseller Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World says“I am absolutely amazed, and thrilled, to find out about your trip around the world, à la Nellie Bly, and to read your accounts of it in your blog. And, needless to say, to hear that Eighty Days was helpful to you in your travels. Just know how impressed I am with your travels — you’re a worthy descendant of Nellie (and Elizabeth Bisland) themselves.”

The book is due to be published as an e-pub as well thanks to enormous help from my friend David Olver.
Nellie_Bly_in_the_Sky

 

 

 

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Nellie Bly: Top of the Lists

Nellie Bly is top of the lists.

Nellie Bly is top of the lists.

Nellie Bly is ‘back on the front page’ as a chart-topper in the historical, convention-busting, inspiring and feminist leagues.

Just in time for International Women’s Day 2015, The Guardian  and The Observer named Nellie as one of the 10 best feminists.  Here’s what the article’s author Helen Lewis said:

“No one but a man can do this,” Nellie Bly’s editor told her when she suggested travelling round the world in less than 80 days. She would need a protector, he said – and how would she ever carry all the luggage a lady would need on such a trip? Bly didn’t worry too much about the first quibble, and travelled light, crushing all her belongings into a single handbag. She made it home in 72 days. That wasn’t the first time the pioneering American journalist had attracted attention through her work – a year earlier, in 1887, she faked madness to go undercover in an asylum, exposing its poor conditions and abusive staff.” Here’s the entire list of 10 Best Feminists

Nellie Bly's biography by Brooke Kroeger

Nellie Bly’s biography by Brooke Kroeger

In 10 Books About Innovative Women You Should Know More About, Kathleen Culliton names Nellie Bly: Daredevil. Reporter.Feminist by Brooke Kroeger.  This is what she says on online site Bustle:

“Here’s what I love about stories of women who innovate: they’re two stories. First you’ve got the story of the brilliant idea, or the world-changing artifact, the traveling of the globe, the charting of the star, the rallying of the people. Then, you’ve got the story of how the hell a woman got people to listen to her in the first place. These are stories not just of human beings who were crazy-smart, but women who were as tough as nails… Journalist Nellie Bly faked insanity to get committed in an asylum. She reported on its atrocities as she experienced them. When that was done, she circled the globe.”

Brooke Kroeger wrote this book because she could not find a single reliable source that accurately captured the story of Nellie Bly. Instead of a credible biography, she found brief encyclopedia entries and children’s books. And she was baffled because Bly not only had a major impact on journalism, but a fascinating life. In an age that relegated women reporters to the ‘Homes and Gardens’ section of the newspaper, Bly faked her own insanity to gain admission into and report on one of the nation’s most notorious insane asylums and effectively invented stunt journalism.”
Here’s the full list of 10 Books about Inspirational Women You Should Know More About.

Nellie Bly

Nellie Bly

Online worldwide news site Buzzfeed named Nellie Bly as one of  the Top 12 Historical Women Who Didn’t Give a ‘you know what’.

“Nellie Bly was a daring and influential investigative journalist who wrote groundbreaking stories about political corruption and poverty. She once faked madness in order to report undercover from an abusive mental institution in New York City, which led to outcry and reform. Her jealous peers referred to her investigations as “stunt reporting”, but Nellie, of course, didn’t give a  x*!x*!  about those whiny little x*!x*!     Oh, and she once travelled around the world in a record-breaking 72 days, just ‘cause.  Here’s the post.

She was named among the top 7 of inspiring ‘convention-breaking‘ women by Mother Nature Network who said:

Nellie exposed the abuses taking place inside the Women's Asylum.

Nellie exposed the abuses taking place inside the Women’s Asylum.

Nellie Bly was an investigative journalist who went undercover in a mental hospital to secure a job at a newspaper when she moved to New York City. She wrote about her experience spending 10 days in a mental ward: “What, excepting torture, would produce insanity quicker than this treatment? I would like the expert physicians who are condemning me for my action, which has proven their ability, to take a perfectly sane and healthy woman, shut her up and make her sit from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. on straight-back benches, do not allow her to talk or move during these hours, give her no reading and let her know nothing of the world or its doings, give her bad food and harsh treatment, and see how long it will take to make her insane. Two months would make her a mental and physical wreck.”

Following that blockbuster story, Bly circled the world in 72 days in imitation of Jules Verne’s book, married a millionaire, ran his steel manufacturing company after he died, and developed a number of patents for her business. She covered the suffragist movement in an article titled “Suffragists Are Men’s Superiors” in 1913 but correctly predicted women wouldn’t get the vote until 1920.
See full post here.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette where Nellie was once a reporter invites us to ‘Learn from the Past’ via Nellie Bly.
“In 1887, she moved to New York City and landed a job at the New York World. For one of her first assignments, she went undercover as a patient at the Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum. She spent 10 days experiencing the asylum’s deplorable living conditions, which included rotten food and physical abuse from the staff. After the New York World demanded her release, Bly’s firsthand accounts of the horrors of the asylum, “Ten Days in a Mad House,” became a book that prompted a grand jury investigation.Two years later, she decided to travel the world faster than novelist Jules Verne’s character Phileas Fogg in “Around the World in Eighty Days.” She boarded a ship from New York Nov. 14, 1889, and returned Jan. 25, 1890 — 72 days, six hours, 11 minutes and 14 seconds after her departure. Read the full article here.

 

 

125 years on: Nellie Bly Inspires Young Women

Nellie Bly

“She was a leading woman of her time who was tough and never willing to stand down.”
 Megan Laham, 16, Stoneham, Massachusetts

“… 125 years from now, imagine the changes that could occur if we attack inequality with the same fervour that Nellie Bly possessed.”
 Callie Slevin, 16, La Crosse, Wisconsin

“She was kind, self-reliant and used her voice as a journalist to help others who didn’t have a voice.”
 Rachel Dennis, 13, of Renton, Washington.

“We were delighted to discover an entire branch of journalism (investigative reporting) she had created.”
Jacqui  Hale, 16, Bedford, Massachusetts

Nellie Bly

Recently deemed one of the 12 feistiest women in history by internet news giant Buzzfeed, Victorian journalist Nellie Bly remains among the world’s top 10 female adventurers. Her legacy as a pioneer of investigative journalism, intrepid traveller, feminist and humanitarian lives on in best-selling books, television documentaries and editorials. Her grave in New York’s Woodlawn Cemetery draws a steady stream of visitors, says Susan Olsen, Woodlawn’s Director of Historical Services.

Exactly 125 years after breaking the record for circling the globe and 93 years since her death, Nellie Bly is still ‘alive and well’, especially in the eyes of today’s young women.

“I am always warmed by the abiding interest in the adventures of Nellie Bly,” says Nellie’s biographer Brooke Kroeger, journalist , author and professor at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. “I think it’s remarkable how current she is with the junior set.”

Nellie’s ‘currency with the younger set ‘ is demonstrated by the number of American teenage girls who research her legacy for National History Day (NHD), a nationwide competition to promote history and research skills. Every year since the NHD competition was launched in 1974, Nellie Bly features among the leading entries.

Indeed, at least two projects devoted to Nellie Bly reach the National History Day finals every year, according to Micah Azzano, NHD Director of Public Affairs. Nellie Bly has also been proposed by fans for inclusion on NHD’s list of 100 Significant Leaders  in World History where voting is open to the public.

That doesn’t surprise Brooke Kroeger.

“Since the publication of Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist in 1994, I get anywhere from 10 to 30 queries a year from middle school girls — always girls — who have chosen Nellie as their research subject,” says Brooke Kroeger. “It’s impressive how many historical themes for which she incites the imagination.”

Nellie Bly perforamnce by /////////////////////

Saige, Emily and Megan’s performance about Nellie Bly received honourable mention in the National History Day state finals.

Megan Laham, Emily Manfra and Saige Calkins, all 16, of Stoneham, Massachusetts, pooled their imagination and talent for a performance about Nellie Bly that made it all the way to NHD’s state finals last year and received an honourable mention.

“It was good to spread the word of Nellie,” says Megan, 16. “All three of us see Nellie Bly as a role model. Through her works and fighting to get a job as a female reporter, she really set the standards to all reporters.”

Jaqui Hale, Sarah Nosal, Rachel Arnold, all 16, and Nili Ezekiel, 17, of Bedford, Massachusetts, saluted Nellie in their comprehensive website for the NHD competition:  Nellie Bly’s Multi-faceted Legacy: Leading a Progressive Generation of Journalists and Social Reformers. 

mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Jacqui, Sarah, Rachel and Nili of Bedford, Massachusetts teamed up to create a comprehensive website.

“All of the things that she led during her lifetime then transferred into a lasting legacy in journalism and social reform,” said Jacqui, who represented the group. “…She taught us that women can be brave and accomplish many things as long as they push themselves like she did. She was so helpful to those she considered helpless, and often ignored her own safety because she was set on learning the truth,” says Jacqui.

Nellie Bly website created by Callie Slevin

Nellie Bly website created by Rachel Dennis, 13

Rachel Dennis, 13, of Renton, Washington, is putting the finishing touches on a website for NHD’s latest competition.

“Nellie Bly was a leader in journalism, a firm supporter for women’s rights and someone who believed in justice and equality,” says Rachel. “She was most famous for her trip around the world, but she made a difference in many people’s lives by writing articles about the working and living conditions of people less fortunate than her.”

Callie Slevan, 13.

Callie Slevin, 13

Callie's exhibit

Callie’s exhibit: Feigning Insanity for the Betterment of Society: Nellie Bly

Callie Slevin, 16, of La Crosse, Wisconsin first ‘met’ Nellie Bly at Washington DC’s Newseum where she features in a display and film. Callie’s NHD exhibit Feigning Insanity for the Betterment of Society: Nellie Bly demonstrates Nellie’s courage in revealing the ‘horrid mistreatment of patients in asylums during the late 1800s’ which she endured and wrote about in the newspaper and later in her book Ten Days in a Mad-house.

Callie most admires Nellie’s ‘unending ardour.’  “She not only made waves within the field of journalism, but she made waves as a woman in the field of journalism,” Callie says.

“Her legacy included the lives she changed, but also everyone she inspired to succeed, to fight injustice, and to keep going no matter the difficulty of their situation.”

 

25 January 2015: 125 years since Nellie Bly Won World Race

“I took off my cap and wanted to yell with the crowd, not because I had gone around the world in 72 days, but because I was home again.”

Nellie crossed the Hudson River to Manhattan after winning the world race.

Nellie crossed the Hudson River from Jersey City to Manhattan after winning the world race.

At 3.51 p.m. on 25 January 1890, journalist Nellie Bly completed her epic travels. Her train pulled into Jersey City, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, signalling the finale of the world journey she completed in  72 days, 6 hours and 11 minutes. She had 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. She was said to be the most famous woman in the world that day. After crossing three oceans and four continents, she ended her journey with a ‘flying trip’ by train across America.

“I only remember my trip across the continent as one maze of happy greetings, happy wishes, congratulations, 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.

At stations across America, enormous crowds gathered to cheer Nellie on:Fresno, Topeka, Dodge City, Kansas City, Chicago, Columbus, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia…

Throngs of people were cheering Nellie Bly as her carriage travelled up Cortlandt Street to Broadway.

Throngs of people were cheering Nellie Bly as her carriage travelled up Cortlandt Street to Broadway.

At her final destination, Jersey City, “the station was packed with thousands of people and the moment I landed on the platform, one yell went up from them…and the cannons at the Battery and Fort Greene boomed out the news of my arrival,” wrote Nellie. “From Jersey to Jersey is around the world and I am in Jersey now.”

Today she is best known for her record-breaking journey. But even more importantly, Nellie Bly pioneered investigative journalism and paved the way for female reporters.

Let’s pay tribute to the courage and determination of Nellie Bly on the 125th anniversary of the day she stepped off the train in Jersey City … and into history.

This toolkit provides material you can use on Twitter and Facebook to celebrate Nellie’s triumph.

Toolkit: Share the 125th Anniversary of Nellie Bly’s Triumphant Return

TEN TWEETS  & AND A FACEBOOK POST TO CELEBRATE 125th ANNIVERSARY OF NELLIE BLY’S RECORD-BREAKING TRIP
25 January 2015

Let’s get #NellieBly125 trending on twitter. Copy these or write your own. Use the #NellieBly125 hashtag. You can copy and paste the images in this post or look here, they’re in the public domain.

TWEETS

Nellie Bly

Nellie Bly

Let’s put journalist #NellieBly125 back on map.Jan 25 is 125th anniv of her record-breaking world trip.Pls retweet.http://bitly.com/1xsFo1A

125yrs ago #NellieBly125 was fastest to circle globe.She would’ve set twitter alight.Make it happen now.Pls retweet. http://bitly.com/1xsFo1A

#NellieBly125
 pioneered investigative journalism,paved way for women reporters &circled globe fastest 125yrs ago.http://bitly.com/1xsFo1A

Feminist Phileas Fogg #NellieBly125 circled world faster than anyone 125 yrs ago.Alone w/only clothes on her back.http://bitly.com/1xsFo1A

Celebrate 125 yrs since #NellieBly125 beat record for circling globe. Read her book free http://bit.ly/1umDvI3.

#NellieBly125 stepped off train & into history.125 yrs ago she beat record for round the world trip.http://bit.ly/1yGJxTX Pls retweet

#NellieBly125 among top 10 women adventurers.Circled world fastest.Jan 25 is 125th anniv of her triumph.http://bitly.com/1xsFo1A Pls retweet

Globetrotter #NellieBly125 circled globe in 72 days beating the record 125 years ago today. http://bitly.com/1xsFo1A

125 yrs later #NellieBly125 still among TOP10 women adventurers & TOP12 historical women who don’t give an X bzfd.it/17i9COI.

JAN 25 is 125th anniv of #NellieBly125 ‘s record-breaking trip round the world. She beat #PhileasFogg.http://bitly.com/1xsFo1A. Pls retweet.

Nellie_Bly4

Nellie Bly

If you like, you can add:
@
brookekroeger – author of bio Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist
@WIJ_UK  – Women in Journalism,UK
@NYWICI – New York Women in Communications,USA
@RGS_IBG – Royal Geographical Society
@explorerstweet – Explorers Connect
@AdventuressClub

FACEBOOK POST
Use this, edit it or write your own facebook post.

25 JANUARY 2015: 125th ANNIVERSARY OF NELLIE BLY’S RECORD-BREAKING WORLD TRIP

No-one had ever circled the globe with such speed. Journalist-adventurer Nellie Bly stepped off the train in Jersey City on January 25, 1890 …  and into history.  She raced through a ‘man’s world’ in 72 days —  alone and literally with the clothes on her back — to beat the fictional record set by Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg. She was a global celebrity. Today, she remains one of the top 10 female adventurers.  http://bitly.com/1xsFo1A

 

A Chain Around the Earth – Acknowledgements

Nellie and her bag“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. To each and all of you, men, women and children, in my land and in the lands I visited, I am most truly grateful. Every kind act and thought, but if an unuttered wish, a cheer, a tiny flower, is imbedded in my memory as one of the pleasant things of my novel tour.” Nellie Bly 1890

I’m with Nellie. My trip couldn’t have been so successful … or even ever happened…without the ‘kindnesses’ shown by so many. I send my heartfelt thanks to the countless people en route who helped me along the way and also to all those who generously donated to UNICEF  through my Footsteps of Nellie Bly page.

Acadia

Acadia

I must first acknowledge the support from my husband David Stanton and daughter Acadia. David helped me design my itinerary, plot the flights and pack my small suitcase so everything fit. Best of all they both believed in what I wanted to do.

My Chain Around the World
UK

WIJlogoAlso on the home front, thank you to Anna Barfield and Janet Goodman for the lovely bubbly send-off at Heathrow. Barbara Richardson, Liz KhanSusan Lacy, Christina Watson, Vicky Webster, Dinah Nichol and Patsy Puttnam also spurred me on, as did everyone in my freelance writing course at City Lit led by Susan Grossman. Alan Taylor contacted our RGS logofriend Nikhil Hirdaramani who introduced me by email to his lovely friends in Colombo. I am delighted that Women in Journalism endorsed my trip and the Royal Geographical Society registered it.  Many thanks to  Michael Blunt, Vice-President of Corporate Communications at oneworld Alliance who asked his airline colleagues en route to offer assistance if necessary. Happy to report that I never needed to call on them because everything went smoothly. Nellie Bly herself travelled with a similar ‘letter of introduction’  from ocean liner officials.

USA

Peat O'Neil (r) and David Stanton at the Newseum, Washington DC.

Louisa Peat O’Neil (r) and David Stanton at the Newseum, Washington DC.

Louisa Peat O’Neil gave me good advice from the start. She’s alwaysnellie-bly-daredevil-reporter-feminist been an inspiration. Back in 1980, she embroidered Rainbow of the Road on my bright yellow backpack and sent me off.  Alice Robbins-Fox, a terrific travel companion who keeps me on track, met me in New York City to share the journey and her birthday. Sally Emery made connections there and helped us plot urban itineraries. Victoria Fulmer offered to come around the world with me…as long as it was on a private jet. Pat Streifel and Vim Maguire helped pave the way. Dolly McCo80days_cover_largey and Arnold Blystone took me to explore Nellie’s birthplace in Cochran Mills, Pennsylvania. Donald and Marilyn Schlief kindly offered their apartment in Washington, DC so we could visit the Newseum that features Nellie Bly. Kristina Heintz‘ birthday card to me featured a dancing girl with the words ‘she could no longer deny the gypsy in her soul.’ Perfect. My trip was enriched by the writing and research of Brooke KroegerNellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist  and Matthew GoodmanEighty Days.

SRI LANKA

The Stapels family and guide at the Royal Botanical Gardens.l

The Stapels family and guide at the Royal Botanical Gardens.

Thanuja Kanchana Camlo Lanka Tours met me at the airport in Colombo and managed to extract my credit card from the machine that swallowed it – rescuing my source of funds for the rest of the trip.

Lakmini, Jevon and Devin Raymond; and Steffi and Moahan Balendra pulled out all the stops to show me the best of Colombo. Nushka Nafeel wrote about Nellie for the Sri Lanka Daily News.

The Stapels family — Bernie, Redda and Julia from Germany — invited me to join them and their guide in Kandy and together we visited the Royal Botanic Gardens that so impressed Nellie.

Adler Hostel (r) in Singapore's Chinatown

Adler Hostel (r) in Singapore’s Chinatown

SINGAPORE

Folks at the Adler Hostel  helped me to map out itineraries taking in all of Nellie’s sites. Stephen Wang at the Your Singapore Tourist Information Office provided tons of history and organised a tour of the Fullerton Hotel with Florence Minjout who shared her knowledge about Singapore in the 1890s.

Windy and I at the Umbrella Seat

Windy and I at the Umbrella Seat

HONG KONG

Sanford Lee, Windy Chiu and Chung of the Hong Kong Tourism Board based at Victoria Gap joined my quest to find the umbrella seat where Nellie rested on her way to the peak. Windy and I trekked to the top and found it!

GUANGZHOU, CHINA

Jenny at the Hilton near Yuexi Park

Jenny at the Hilton near Yuexi Park

With the generous help from the team at the Customs Hotel, I was able to find obscure Nellie sites.  Business man Joe Yang not only gave me directions, but delivered me to the Nanyue King’s Tomb Museum. Jenny at the Hilton Hotel near Yuexiu Park gave me a map, advice and sent me off in the right direction.

JAPAN 

mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Yoshihisa and Yoshie Togo in Hakone.

Yoshihisa and Yoshie Togo whisked me off to Hakone with spectacular views of Mount Fuji and Kamakura with the Great Buddha Diabutsu.

125 Years Ago Today: Nellie Steams Into History

Nellie Bly 125 years ago

Nellie Bly 125 years ago

Exactly 125 years ago on November 14, 1889, crusading journalist Nellie Bly left New York Harbour to start what would become the fastest-ever  journey around the globe.

She  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 Eighty Days.  Seventy-two days later, she won the race and became a global celebrity.  125 years later, I set out to follow in her footsteps around the world.

We both travelled alone with one small case. She went by ocean liner and train. I flew. She raced, I didn’t. She covered 28,000 miles in 72 days, I completed 22,500 miles in 32 days. She journeyed through the Victorian age, breaking 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.

Nellie crossed the Atlantic on the  Augusta Victoria.

Nellie crossed the Atlantic on the Augusta Victoria.

To this day Nellie Bly is one of the top 10 female adventurers. But what seems to have been forgotten is her role as a pioneer of investigative journalism who paved the way for women reporters.

Nellie’s crusades in print brought about sweeping reforms in asylums, sweatshops, orphanages and prisons. Back in 1887, she had herself committed to the Women’s Asylum on Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island)  and exposed the cruelties and hardships the patients endured. She burst into male-only newsrooms proving that women were more than capable and was the first woman to report from the Eastern Front in WWI.

Nellie exposed the abuses taking place inside the Women's Asylum.

Nellie exposed the abuses taking place inside the Women’s Asylum.

Let’s pay tribute to the courage, spunk and determination of Nellie Bly on the 125th anniversary of the day she steamed out of America on the Augusta Victoria … and into history.

 

 

In Which Nellie sees Stars and Stripes

 Nellie’s dates: 25-26 December 1889
My dates: 16-17 September 2014   

Shamian Island, Canton, China

19th Century Shamian Island map

Charming white stone footbridges lead to Shamian Island.

Charming white stone footbridges lead to Shamian Island.

Predictably, both Nellie and I felt most at home on Shamian, a tiny island once set aside for Europeans.  Surrounded by water, Shamian or Shameen, resembles a large ship mooring alongside a wharf. Crossing to the island over charming white stone footbridges, you enter another reality.

Nellie wrote it was “green and picturesque, with handsome houses of Oriental design, and grand shade trees, and wide, velvety green roads…”, broken only by a single path, made by the bare feet of the chair-carriers.”

American Consulate in Nellie's time.

American Consulate in Nellie’s time

More than 150 western-style buildings  — consulates, churches, banks, post offices, telegraph offices, hospitals, residences and hotels —  were built on Shamian. Proud of its colonial heritage, the little island signposts its splendid past seen in gracious foreign consulates that have since opted for Canton’s soaring Central Business District (CBD).

Many of Shamian’s fine buildings are labelled — directing you straight back to colonial times. I found the former American Consulate where Nellie challenged her companions.

“Here for the first time since leaving New York, I saw the stars and stripes. It was floating over the gateway to the American Consulate. The moment I saw it floating there in then soft, lazy breeze I took off my cap and said: “That is the most beautiful flag in the world, and I am ready to whip anyone who says it isn’t.”

Former British Consulate on Shamian Island.

Former British Consulate on Shamian Island.

“No one said a word.  Everyone was afraid,” she wrote. “I saw an Englishman in the party glance towards the Union Jack, which was floating over the English Consulate, but in a hesitating manner, as if he feared to let me see.”

Many of the places Nellie saw on Shamian 125 years ago still exist in their original roles — the tennis courts, Christ Church and Queen’s Park.

Christ Church

Queen's Park on Shamian  Island

Queen’s Park

In Which Nellie Makes It Half-Way Round the World

SINGAPORE
Nellie’s dates: 18 December 1889
My dates: 11-14 September 2014

Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore

By the time she reached Singapore, Nellie Bly was half-way round the world and at the southernmost tip of her journey. Arriving at dark the night before, it was too risky to dock. The P & O Oriental was forced to anchor in the harbour, much to Nellie’s frustration.

“The sooner we got in, the sooner we could leave, and every hour lost meant so much to me,” she wrote.

When Nellie came on deck the next morning, “the ship lay alongside the wharf and naked coolies were carrying, two by two, baskets of coal suspended between them on a pole, constantly traversing the gangplank between the ship and the shore, while in little boats about were peddlers with silks, photographs, fruits, laces and monkeys to sell.’’

Nellie didn’t buy a monkey from the peddlers in little boats; but from the family of her driver.

“When I saw the monkey my willpower melted and I began straight away to bargain for it. I got it,” she wrote. That monkey travelled around the rest of the world with her. He was called McGinty and became one of the icons of her world voyage. It’s illegal to buy monkeys in Singapore today.

Nellie noted the shophouses  in Singapore “where families seem to occupy the second story, the lower being devoted to business purposes.’’ Today those shophouses are hot properties hosting chic hotels, restaurants and boutiques. I stayed in a renovated shophouse in Chinatown – a former pawn shop – now the Adler Hostel.

The National Museum

The National Museum visited by Nellie and me

In her one day in Singapore, she visited the Raffles Museum, now the recently restored and very impressive National Museum  standing today as it did in Nellie’s time. Nellie described it as “most interesting.” I visited it too and found Yeo Li Li to ask for help in tracing a Hindu temple that refused Nellie’s entry.
Nellie was incensed.
“Why? I demanded, curious to know why my sex in heathen lands should exclude me from a temple, as in America it confines me to the side entrances of hotels and other strange an incommodious things,” she wrote. “My comrades were told that removing their shoes would give them admission but I should be denied that privilege because I was a woman.”

I spent the afternoon temple-hopping in Singapore’s Little India only to discover that this temple that served the dhobies – those who made their living doing laundry in the nearby Stamford Canal — was now the site of Dhoby-Ghaut metro station. No worshipping here – hundreds of thousands of people pour in and out on pilgrimages to the area’s colossal shopping malls. That will teach them for excluding Nellie Bly.

Nellie landed in Singapore 70 years after Sir Thomas Stamford  Raffles, often known as the ‘father of Singapore.’ By the time she got here, he was already a legend. I stood before his statue, as Nellie did, and read the same inscription:

“On this historic site Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles first landed in Singapore on 28th January 1819 and with genius and perception changed the destiny of Singapore from an obscure fishing village to a great seaport and modern metropolis.” The statue was sculpted in bronze by Thomas Woolner in 1887 – two years before Nellie’s arrival.

The Arts House at the Old Parliament Building

The Arts House at the Old Parliament Building

Around him soar some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers in the ultra-contemporary metropolis that is Singapore today. But look below these silver monumental giants and you will find the Singapore of Nellie’s time in graciously restored Victorian government buildings now devoted to art and culture — the Arts House at the Old Parliament Building, Victoria Theatre and Asian Civilisations Museum. Not far away, the Raffles Hotel maintains its original vocation hosting the wealthy and selling over-priced Singapore Slings ($35) to the rest of us. We’re drinking in the Colonial atmosphere as much as the gin-based cocktail invented at Raffles in 1915. The Long Bar retains the original air circulation system – individual palm-leaf fans in a horizontal row moving mechanically back and forth to ease the tropical heat. Nellie was fascinated by these fans.

The harbour at Nellie's time with Johnston Pier (left) illustrated on a postage stamp.

The harbour at Nellie’s time with Johnston Pier (left) illustrated on a postage stamp.

The Fullerton Hotel started life as Singapore’s General Post Office in 1928. It’s size and grandeur – taking up a full city block –are testimony to the major role of the post in Colonial times. Although not exactly the same era as Nellie, I picked up many clues on a guided tour of the hotel by Florence Minjout  arranged by Stephen Wang at the Singapore Visitor’s Centre . Nellie would have disembarked at the former Johnston Pier, long since replaced. She would’ve crossed the Cavenagh Bridge  built in 1870 – the oldest existing bridge in Singapore.

The Cavenagh Bridge crossed by Nellie Bly

The Cavenagh Bridge crossed by Nellie Bly

It’s easy to get lost in Victorian times via time-honoured places like Raffles, The Fullerton Hotel and the Arts House. Not so at the former Governor’s House which is totally off limits except for a few times a year when the public is allowed in. Now called Istana, the current home of Singapore’s President Tony Tan Keng Yam is heavily gated and guarded. You can’t even see it. Nellie was entertained there by the Governor of Singapore. It was built by convict labourers on the site of a nutmeg farm.

Heavily-guarded former Governor's Residence.

Heavily-guarded former Governor’s Residence.

The original Governor’s Residence sat atop the highest hill in Singapore until the 1850s, a welcome refuge from the heat below. Now called Fort Canning Park, it is also the site of Singapore’s first botanical garden and features a replica of the mast that would’ve guided Nellie’s ship into the harbour.

Nellie sailed into a colonial Singapore.  I flew into a ‘Disneyfied’ Singapore with its Westernised veneer, harbour light shows bouncing off of soaring steel and glass;  and street vendors now corralled into area hawkers centres. All with a slight nod to the past. Fascinating!

In Which Nellie Is Delayed in Ceylon

An outrigger like Nellie rode to shore

An outrigger like the one Nellie rode to shore

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (FORMER CEYLON)

Nellie’s  dates: December 8-14, 1889
My dates: September 7-11, 2014

Nellie was the first to step ashore in Colombo. Leaving the other passengers boarding a steam launch, she balanced on an outrigger that sped towards the small island once known as Ceylon.

“The island, with its abundance of green trees, was very restful and pleasing to our eyes after the spell of heat we had passed through on the ocean coming from Aden (Yemen), ” Nellie wrote. “We all stood impatiently on the deck waiting for the first opportunity to desert the ship.  With all our impatience we could not fail to be impressed with the beauties of Colombo … we could see the green island dotted with low-arcaded buildings, which looked, in the glare of the sun, like marble palaces.”

The Grand Oriental Hotel

Grand Oriental Hotel Museum with (l to r) Mr. Chandika, Mr. Nandana and Mr. Dushaatha.

Grand Oriental Hotel Museum with (l to r) Mr. Chandika, Mr. Nandana and Mr. Dushaatha.

One of them was the Grand Oriental Hotel. Nellie had already engaged her accommodations there when the steam launch arrived with the others. My own accommodations at the Grand Oriental Hotel were ‘engaged’ on the internet a month in advance. I’d hoped to stay in the same room as Nellie; but records of her stay no longer exist.

“It was a fine, large hotel,” wrote Nellie, “with tiled arcades, corridors airy and comfortably furnished… (where one could) sip the cooling lime squashes or the exquisite native tea or eat of the delicious fruit while resting in an attitude of ease and laziness.”

I was also greeted with a cooling fruit juice when I arrived at the Grand Oriental for the Asian start of my Nellie Bly 125th anniversary world trip.

With an exasperating five-day delay between ships, Nellie became well acquainted with the hotel. In her day, the corridors were ‘colonised’ by snake charmers, magicians and jewellers. They have long since disappeared — and so has much of the charm that once characterised the Grand Oriental.

GOH2

The Grand Oriental Hotel in its prime

Only 80 of the original 300 rooms remain – the rest were sold for police headquarters. Even so, the management is fiercely proud of the hotel’s legacy – it’s a listed site. The multitude of plaques in the lobby attest to the glorious heritage of the Grand Oriental Hotel, including a visit by Anton Chekov in 1890, a year after Nellie’s.

What’s missing is a tribute to Nellie. Perhaps I should arrange a plaque commemorating her stopover. I think they would make space in the lobby; or perhaps in the hotel’s little museum on the fourth floor where it could take its place among the time-honoured photos, ledgers, crockery and silver from the Grand Oriental’s past.

With a little help from my friends

Sri Lanka is known for its hospitality and I experienced it big-time. A simple introduction by email from a mutual friend in London was all it took for Lakmini Raymond and her two sons Jévon and Devin to share their local knowledge, their home and their friendship.

We started with a cup of famous Ceylon tea in the former Dutch Hospital — there even before the British arrived – now a dynamic mix of trendy shops and eateries. From there we relaxed in Lakmini’s home near that of the Sri Lankan Prime Minister; before dinner at the Hilton which was also hosting the Japanese Premier in the country to inaugurate a second terminal at the Bandaranaike International Airport as I discovered upon landing there that morning.

The Nellie Bly Research Team in Colombo — Lakmini, Jevon and Devin Raymond and Jagdesh Mirchandani.

Some of the sites Nellie visited in Colombo were evident, but Lakmini, her sons and friend Jagdesh Mirchandani formed the ‘Nellie Bly journey research team’ and managed to connect the current-day Ananda College with the Buddhist College Nellie visited 125 years ago. The big challenge was the Parsee Theatre where Nellie attended a theatrical performance so memorable that she spent two pages of her short book describing it. Even Jagdesh, whom Lakmini calls the Wikipedia of Sri Lanka, didn’t know. “Let’s ask a Parsee he said as he dialled a Parsee friend. We’re still not sure but Jagdesh’s friend thought it could have been at the Parsee Club under the pergola.

And that was day one in Sri Lanka.