Writer recreates Nellie Bly’s historic around-the-world trip that started in Hoboken and ended in Jersey City
By NICHOLE URBAN
FOR THE JERSEY JOURNAL
In 1889, a woman journalist – a rarity at the time – set out to mimic the journey taken by “Around the World in 80 Days” character, Phileas Fogg.
In a trip that started in Hoboken and ended 72 days later with a raucous celebration in Jersey City, reporter Nellie Bly did just that when she shattered Fogg’s fictional record on Jan. 25, 1890.
Rosemary Brown, a modern-day woman journalist, could think of no better way to pay tribute on the 125th anniversary of Bly’s accomplishment than to follow in her footsteps and embarked on a similar world tour from Sept. 6 to Oct. 8.
“I wanted to put her back on the map,” said Rosemary Brown, a former Tampa Tribune reporter who now is a freelance writer in London. “Imagine what she had to go through, a woman in Victorian times going out on a limb when she was supposed to be at home.”
Specializing in travel, the 60-year-old Brown has spent much of the past eight months learning about Bly.
By the time Bly, a reporter at the New York World, embarked on her own famous voyage with nothing but a small case and the outfit on her back, she had already defied stereotypes and redefined investigative reporting.
She refused to be limited to typical women’s pages of the time like fashion and gardening, favoring instead to spotlight conditions of female factory workers and feigning mental illness to expose shortcomings of an asylum from within.
Bly set out from Hoboken, a bit apprehensive, taking her first sea-faring steps right here in New Jersey.
“The morning was beautiful and the bay never looked lovelier,” Bly wrote in her book “Around the World in 72 Days.”
“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 know, taking me to strange lands and strange people, I felt lost,” Bly continued.
She would return to quite a warm welcome, pulling in at 3:51 p.m., on Jan. 25, 1890 in Jersey City. Mayor Orestes Cleveland and an estimated 10,000 to 15,000, proud Jersey City residents welcomed her when she stepped off of the ship.
“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 Green boomed out the news of my arrival. From Jersey to Jersey is around the world and I am in Jersey now,” Bly wrote.
Brown came upon Nellie while researching suitable role models for her daughter.
“I wanted to get some attention for women adventurers, (since) men get most of the publicity,” Brown said. “I worry that these days we’re not being as courageous in journalism, and her getting out there and giving a voice to people that didn’t have voices back then was really important.”
Brown emulated, almost exactly, Bly’s trip, which started in Hoboken and concluded in Jersey City, documenting her travels thoroughly in her blog, “Nelly Bly in the Sky.”
While Bly traveled by sea, Brown opted for flight. However both women traveled alone with minimal luggage and journeyed from London to Amiens, France, Colombo and Kandy in Sri Lanka and several stops in China and Japan before returning to New Jersey.
“I was worried about losing things or missing a flight because I’m not the best organizer and I was very worried about getting into China, but I had no problems whatsoever,” Brown said. “Most of the time, I think these fears are unfounded and just stand to block you from doing what you want to do.”
Several times, Brown mentioned that she could feel Nellie urging her along the trip.
“The one thing I did not expect was facing a typhoon in China,” Brown said. “I had the visa and accommodations booked and the storm reached Level 8 warning, but I got myself to the train station in Hong Kong and the trains were still running. There was no one on them, but I thought ‘Just do it!’ It felt like Nellie was pushing me saying ‘Oh c’mon, don’t be a wimp, get out there!’
“At the time, it’s stressful but your courage comes through.”
Like Bly, Brown had nothing but positive experiences, especially when it came to getting around in China and Japan.
“I mostly encountered people who didn’t speak English in China,” Brown said. “If there was something I was looking for, I’d print out a picture and show someone or have them write the name of the place in characters and then ask someone.
“And people were willing to help me, they wanted to help me, they’d go blocks out of their way to show me how to get to places.”
To simulate Nellie’s arrival and departure, Brown visited Hoboken and Jersey City and felt the adventurer’s presence every step of the way.
“Although the current Hoboken Terminal was built 18 years after Nellie’s departure, its splendid architecture is evocative of the times,” Brown said. “I found Hoboken charming. I thought of Nellie and her courage as she boarded the ship, never having been on an ocean voyage and not really knowing when she would return.”
From Hoboken, Brown caught a train to Jersey City before retracing Nellie’s “victory path” in Manhattan.
“I tried to put myself in Nellie’s place and imagine her emotions as she stepped off the train in Jersey City … and into history,” Brown said. “As I crossed by ferry from Jersey City just like she did in 1890, I wondered how the Manhattan skyline looked in her day.”
The best way to commemorate Bly’s iconic trip on its anniversary? Brown says to get out and do whatever it is you really want to tackle. “Just do it! No pitches, no hits! You put yourself out there and you just do it.”
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