Hoboken, New Jersey
Nellie’s date: 14 November 1889
My date: 25 September 2014
“On Thursday November 14, 1889 at 9.40.30 o’clock, I started on my tour around the world,” wrote Nellie Bly in Chapter 2, entitled The Start, in her book Around the World in 72 Days.
Nellie was not an early riser. She scolded ‘the good people who spend so much time in trying to invent flying machines’ saying they should devote more energy to promoting a system in which boats and trains would always make their start at noon or afterwards’ to be of greater assistance to a ‘suffering society.’
Departing with a lump in her throat, Nellie encouraged herself by thinking: “It’s only a matter of 28,000 miles and 75 days and four hours until I shall be back again.”
“The morning was beautiful and the bay never looked lovelier,” she recalls of her departure from Hoboken, New Jersey in New York Harbour. “But when the whistle blew and they were on the pier and I was on the Augusta Victoria, which was slowly but surely moving away from everything I knew, taking me to strange lands and strange people, I felt lost,” she wrote.
“My head felt dizzy and my heart felt as though it would burst. … the world lost its roundness and seemed a long distance with no end.”
Nellie had never ever been on a sea voyage before.
Re-tracing the start … and finish
The morning was grey with sudden squalls when we headed to Pier 11 near Wall Street for the ferry to Hoboken to retrace Nellie’s departure. Two ominous Osprey aircraft suddenly came swooping onto the Downtown Manhattan Heliport nearby. They were followed by a drove of helicopters and police cars with flashing lights. A Coast Guard cutter plied the waters. We looked up to see snipers atop the roofs of nearby buildings. President Obama and the First Lady were leaving town by Air Force One after three days at the United Nations of discussions on climate change, foreign terrorist fighters, education for all, and the Ebola epidemic. Soon the harbour was shut and ferries were frozen. Flocks of people in black suits delivered in long black cars strode towards the aircraft so we even never knew if we saw the President and Michelle Obama. Within minutes of lift-off, the scene was cleared, the ferries were back in business and the Obamas were on their way to the White House.
And we were on the way to Hoboken where Nellie started, and then Jersey City where she finished her epic travels. Nellie’s train pulled in to Jersey City at 3.51 p.m. on 25 January 1890, 72 days, 6 hours,11 minutes and 14 seconds since she had left. No one had ever gone around the globe as fast. By then she was the most famous woman in the world.
After traversing 18 waters from New York Harbour to San Francisco Bay , she was at the end of her ‘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.
People dressed in their Sunday best flocked to the train stations along her route to cheer on Nellie Bly. Multitudes of well-wishers filled the stations as she travelled through Albuquerque, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia. At Pittsburgh’s Union Station, not far from her hometown of Apollo, thousands turned out at 3.10 in the morning to wave her on. Nellie stepped onto the rear platform of her car and waved with tears in her eyes to all those who came in the middle of the night to see her.
When she reached on the afternoon of January 25th, 1890, she had won the race. The station was overflowing. On her victory parade to the New York World‘s headquarters at Park Row, the streets were choked with people and the windows of skyscrapers lining Broadway were filled with faces as Nellie’s carriage made its way.
“I wanted to yell with the crowd,” Nellie wrote. “ Not because I had gone around the world in 72 days, but because I was home again.”