Women journalists

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
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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

 

In Which Nellie Bly Exhibits Her Role in History

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

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

Washington DC was not on Nellie’s world trip itinerary,  but it had to be on mine.  The satchel she carried around the world is on display at  the the Newseum there, courtesy of Nellie Bly biographer Brooke Kroeger.  I had to see it.

Nellie Boy on display at the Newseum

Nellie Bly on display at the Newseum

Adjacent to the Capitol, the Newseum transports you across five centuries of journalism through multi-media presentations, hands-on exhibits and galleries.

I’d been hoping to be able to carry Nellie’s satchel or gripsack as she called it — just for a minute — but it’s  well- protected and inaccessible inside a Plexiglas display.  Even so, it was exciting to see an icon of her epic journey that so totally captures her spirit. When Nellie’s editor said he’d have to send a man around the world because a woman required a chaperone and innumerable trunks, Nellie showed him by stuffing everything she needed in a 16×7 inch satchel and travelling alone. Go Nellie.

Aside from her own display, Nellie stars  in a 4-D ‘film experience’ designed to introduce us to the power of journalism.  It recounts  the 10 days she spent in the Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum for Women in New York and the reforms that followed her exposure of the cruelty there. It was terrific to see her role in investigative journalism celebrated so vividly — even if we had to endure shaking chairs and flashing lights to ‘heighten’ the 4-D experience.

Joseph Pulitzer

Joseph Pulitzer

Nellie is in good company at the Newseum with exhibits monitoring press freedom, a memorial to fallen journalists, a large section of the Berlin Wall, front pages from around the world and vivid Pulitzer-prize winning photographs. The legendary Joseph Pulitzer, creator of the  prizes, was the owner of The New York World and Nellie Bly’s boss.

I visited the Newseum with my great friend Louisa Peat O’Neil, a travel writer and former journalist at The Washington Post, and my husband David Stanton who flew over from London. We were met by Peat’s friend John Maynard, Senior Manager, Exhibit Progamming at the Newseum.

Where Nellie Bly Lives On

APOLLO, PENNSYLVANIA
Nellie Bly’s hometown

The Apollo Area Historical Museum is located in the former Women's Christian Temperance Union building.

The Apollo Area Historical Museum is located in the former Women’s Christian Temperance Union building.

If it were not for Nellie’s 150th birthday on 5 May 2014, I might not have known about the Apollo Area Historical Society in southwestern Pennsylvania and its esteem for Nellie Bly, their famous hometown girl. Run by local volunteers who look after their own Apollo Historical Museum, the Society keeps alive the spirit and pluck of Nellie Bly and honour her each year on her birthday. Her 150th was commemorated with a films and a performance by Apollo-Ridge High School drama club members. It made the Valley News Dispatch and I found the article on the internet which included the Society’s facebook page.

I got in touch with Vice President Sue Ott and said I wanted to visit Nellie Bly’s hometown the weekend of 5-6 October which just happened to coincide with the Society’s monthly meeting. Of course I would be delighted to address the Society about my trip. I’d be in Washington DC anyway, a mere four-hour drive away. In any case, I would be eligible for the Apollo Area Historical Society discount at Dolly McCoy’s Guest House if I wanted to stay in town. I did.

Dolly McCoy and I outside Nellie's childhood home with a historical marker honouring her.

Dolly McCoy and I outside Nellie’s childhood home with a historical marker honouring her.

It feels like most people in Apollo, 35 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, know each other — or may even be related. Apollo’s heyday seems to have passed, but the Historical Society keeps alive its vibrant past as a prominent steel and iron town.

Locals gather at Lackey’s Dairy Queen, or the authentic Yakkity Yak Diner just down the road. Lackey’s Dairy Queen opened in 1955 and is owned by Dolly McCoy’s sister-in-law. It closes for the season as autumn approaches. When I was there, people were stocking up on  ice cream supplies ready for the harsh Pennsylvania winter. They know it will be harsh because so many furry black caterpillars have been spotted – a true omen in these parts.

After dinner at the Yakkitty Yak Diner, we headed to the Apollo Area Historial Museum for the monthly meeting. It’s in the former Women’s Christian Temperance Union building. An entire case is devoted to Nellie Bly. Bliss.

Mayor of Gerberoy, France Pierre Chavonnet salutes the Apollo Bicentennial coming up in 2016.

Mayor of Gerberoy, France Pierre Chavonnet salutes the Apollo Bicentennial coming up in 2016.

Going upstairs to the meeting room, I was presented with a hand-stencilled hot pink poster announcing the bicentennial of Apollo in 2016 by Donna Darlene Dunmore  who wanted me to take it to England in hopes that the Queen might see it. I did. I took it with me on a recent visit to  Gerberoy, France – the country’s smallest city and one of its most beautiful, where I snapped a photo of Mayor Pierre Chavonnet, holding it in front of Gerberoy’s own historical museum.

It felt really good to be in the company of true blue Nellie Bly fans—where they knew as much, or more, than I did about her. I basked in their knowledge; nothing needed to be explained from scratch as it had in Sri Lanka, Singapore, Hong Kong, China and Japan, even the UK. And they were pleased as punch that I was celebrating Nellie’s record-breaking world journey.

Dolly McCoy Arnold and I visited the millstone holding a tribute to Nellie Bly in her birthplace Cochran Mills.

Dolly McCoy, Arnold Blystone and I visited the millstone with a tribute to Nellie Bly in her birthplace Cochran Mills.

In nearby Cochran Mills where Nellie Bly was born, a mill stone is embedded with a special plaque honouring their hometown girl. She was born Elizabeth Jane Cochran at Cochran Mills, Pennsylvania on 5 May 1864 to Michael and Mary Jane Cochran. Her father ran a prosperous grist mill there on the banks of Crooked Creek.

Cochran Mills, where Nellie Bly was born, has disappeared.

Cochran Mills, where Nellie Bly was born, has disappeared.

Dolly McCoy of the Apollo Area Historical Society (and Dolly’s Guest House) and Arnold Blystone, co-founder of the Burrell Township Historical Society took a morning off to show me around Nellie’s birthplace. The house where she was born and the mill run by her father are long since gone. The only vestiges of the once thriving mill town are a few foundation stones shrouded in moss. But Nellie remains the area’s most famous resident and her legacy carries on.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Epilogue: Nellie Bly’s Final Resting Place

Alice Robbins-Fox, cmetery historian Susan Olsen and Sally Emery at Elizabeth Bisland's grave.

(l to r) Alice Robbins-Fox, cemetery historian Susan Olsen and Sally Emery at Elizabeth Bisland’s grave.

After following Nellie Bly so intently around the world, I wanted to visit her gravesite when I arrived in New York City to pay my respects. She is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, a National Historic Landmark in the Bronx.

Elizabeth Bisland, who was circling the globe at the same time as Nellie, is also buried at Woodlawn along with newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer publisher of the New York World, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Duke Ellington and many other notable people.

My friends Alice and Sally and I were met by cemetery historian Susan Olsen who took us by car for a tour of this fascinating burial ground stretching more than 400 acres and home to  300,000 graves.

We passed the tombs of America’s most-loved people, some adorned with Tiffany glass. The first stop was at Elizabeth Bisland’s gravesite where I laid one of the 12 white roses I brought for the occasion.

Joseph Pulitzer's grave at Woodlawn

Joseph Pulitzer’s grave at Woodlawn

Our second stop was the tomb of Joseph Pulitzer, Nellie’s boss at the New York World.  He built a newspaper empire from scratch. It was his idea to send Nellie to the asylum on Blackwell’s Island to uncover the abuses that mentally ill women suffered. That story resulted in sweeping reforms in the care of mentally ill people.

Nellie's gravesite

Nellie’s gravesite

At last we were on our way to Nellie’s tomb — plot 212, section 19 in the Honeysuckle Lot. It’s where many victims of the influenza epidemic of 1918 are buried, according to Susan Olsen. Nellie’s was one of the few graves in the Honeysuckle Lot that boasted a headstone. But it wasn’t even erected until 1978 when the New York Press Club dedicated it ‘in honor a of famous news reporter’.

To me, Nellie Bly was so much more than a famous news reporter. She not only paved the way for women in journalism;  she  pioneered investigative journalism – the kind of reporting that brings about change and reforms….and makes the world a better place. When most women were relegated to the home, she travelled the world on her own with a small gripsack and the clothes on her back.

With that in mind, I laid the 11 remaining white roses on her grave.

I’m not sure whether it was the discovery that she was buried in a pauper’s grave unmarked for 56 years, or if this visit represented the culmination of a special journey for both Nellie and I, but I was overcome with emotion.

Rest in peace Nellie Bly.

In Which Nellie Explores Tokyo

Tokyo, Japan 

Emperor's Palace, Tokyo

Emperor’s Palace, Tokyo

“It would fill a large book if I attempted to describe all I saw during my stay in Japan,” Nellie wrote. I wish she had described more, but at least I was able to track what she did recount in Tokyo.

Nellie went to see the Mikado’s Japanese and European castles. Today the Emperor’s Palace can be viewed from the outer garden. To get inside, as Nellie did, advance reservations must be made.

DSC03509

The Sangedatsumon Gate is said to deliver us from greed, anger and stupidity.

All that remains of the great Shiba Temple – today’s Zojoji Temple – that Nellie saw is the majestic vermillion-lacquered main gate built in 1622 and the enormous Diabonsho Bell dating to 1673 weighing 15 tons.

Dianshon Bell

The Dianshon Bell is tolled six times a day

The gate, soaring 21 metres high, is called Sangedatsumon—meaning a gate of deliverance from three earthly states of mind – greed, anger and stupidity. The gate itself was ‘delivered’ from World War II air raids that obliterated the rest of the site.  A memorial service packed the main hall at Zojoji Temple, overlooked by Tokyo Tower, when I went. Many hundreds of people were lined up for their turn to pray and bow before the Buddha. Zojoji is now one of Japan’s principal Buddhist temples.

Garden of the Unborn Children

Garden of the Unborn Children

With row upon row of small statues shaped like little children, a garden in the temple grounds is devoted to unborn babies. Keeping in mind Nellie Bly’s crusading journalism on behalf of mothers and children, I’m sure she would’ve been drawn here. With uplifted faces and hands folded in prayer, the statues wear crocheted hats and scarves. Alongside them are vibrant flowers and whirring pinwheels that gently lighten the solemnity.

Tokyo’s Ueno Park, like London’s South Kensington and Berlin’s Museum Island, is home to first-rate state museums; but also temples, pagodas, gardens and amusements. Nellie described only a memorial tree and a very clever monkey.

I found the tree, but not the monkeys.

Trees planted by !8th US President Gen Ulysses S Grant and his wife Julia at Yuei Park

Trees planted by 18th US President Gen Ulysses S Grant and his wife Julia in 1879 at Ueno Park

In fact there were two trees, planted by General Ulysses S Grant and his wife Julia during a world tour they undertook following his US presidency (1869-1877). The cypress planted by the General and magnolia planted by his wife on 25 August 1879 still stand. Fearing ‘that few people knew about the history of the trees’, a monument was erected 50 years after their planting by ‘those who had the privilege of participating in the welcome event.’  You can find it between the ice cream stand and bumper cars at Ueno Park, adjacent to the area set aside for smokers.

In Which Nellie Falls for JAPAN

Nellie’s dates: 2-7 January 1890
My  dates: 19-24 September 2014

Yokohama 

Port of Yokohama in Nellie Bly's time

Port of Yokohama in Nellie Bly’s time

Nellie simply adored Japan. “If I loved and married, I would say to my mate: ‘Come I know where Eden is,’” she wrote, “and … desert the land of my birth for Japan.” She called it ‘the land of love-beauty-poetry-cleanliness.’

She idolized the people there too heaping praise upon them — ‘charming, sweet, happy, cheerful, delightful, graceful, pretty, artistic, obliging and progressive.’

“In short I found nothing but what delighted the finer senses while in Japan,” gushed a usually rather snide Nellie Bly.

Her port, Yokohama, 20 miles outside Tokyo, had a ‘cleaned up Sunday appearance.’ That was in 1890. By 1923, almost everything had vanished – swallowed by the Great Kantō earthquake that claimed the lives of 30,771 and injured 47,908.

Yokohama water tap that once lined the streets of Yokohama in 300 foot intervals.

Yokohama water tap

An ornate iron water tap, one that lined the streets every 300 yards when the city’s waterworks were installed, was among the scant physical evidence of Nellie’s time. It was in the garden of the  Yokohama Archives of History – the former British Consulate built after the earthquake.

The Grand Hotel described by Nellie as good ‘barring an enormous and monotonous collection of rats’ was long gone. The city’s celebrated Doll Museum has taken its place.

The Grand Hotel which Nellie described as good despite a colony of rats.

The Grand Hotel which Nellie described as good despite a colony of rats.

A new Grand Hotel built in 1927 still stands in Colonial splendour at the port. The concierge there took time to explore the area’s history with me.

Yokohama's Doll Museum now occupies the spot where the Grand Hotel once stood.

Yokohama’s Doll Museum now occupies the spot where the Grand Hotel once stood.

So did Yuki Saito at the Museum of Cultural History. She combed her collection for books, photographs and vintage postcards to bring Nellie’s time in Yokohama to life for me.

Nellie landed at the Port of Yokohama, now the  31st largest in the world, at Osanbashi Pier.  The port’s oldest pier, today  Osanbashi is the site of an ultra-modern wave-shaped international passenger terminal, one of Yokohama’s premier landmarks.

In 1890, the port hosted the American sloop USS Omaha where a luncheon was held in Nellie’s honour – “one of the pleasant events of my stay,” she wrote. Several days later, when Nellie set sail from Yokohama to San Francisco, the band on the Omaha played ‘Home Sweet Home’, ‘Hail Columbia,’ and ‘The Girl I Left Behind.’

shared postcards of Yokohama's Colonial Period.

Yuki Saito shared postcards of Yokohama’s Colonial Period.

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