The incredible story of the world-record holder who circumnavigated the globe in 72 days.
The fictional Phileas Fogg wagers £20,000 that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days or less in AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS. The classic 1872 Jules Verne novel has spawned a slew of film and television versions, and generations of children and adults continue to admire it.
The story of the woman who challenged Fogg’s fictional record for real is significantly less widely known. Nellie Bly came up with the idea of racing around the world faster than Jules Verne’s upper-class hero. But she felt empty as the SS Augusta Victoria ocean liner sped away from the bustling port of Hoboken, and New York City faded into shadows. “I am off,” she pondered as the enormity of the adventure dawned on her, “and shall I ever return?”
Bly’s departure on that November morning in 1889 set off a frenetic trip that would see her circumnavigate the globe faster than anyone had ever done before.
According to The New York World newspaper, she had completed the “most extraordinary of all feats of circumnavigation ever undertaken by a human being” by the time she returned 72 days later. Before dying at the age of 57 in 1922, Bly married a wealthy, rose to become a famous female businessman, and became the first woman reporter on the Eastern Front during WWI.
However, she was previously best recognized as the real-life Phileas Fogg. I made it my duty to put Nellie Bly “back on the map” and set out to retrace her journey for my book, Following Nellie Bly: Her Record-Breaking Race Around the World. I was awestruck by her accomplishment and surprised by its obscurity.
My personal journey started 125 years after Bly’s. I, too, traveled alone with a small cabin bag, like she did. Because the ocean liners that used to deliver Bly have vanished, I flew instead.
Bly traveled through the Victorian era, pushing the envelope at every turn. I blasted into the digital age, releasing the #Nelliebly125 Twitter hashtag and my Nellie Bly in the Sky blog. Bly was in a race. I didn’t do it. In 72 days, she covered 21,740 miles. In 32 days, I covered 22,500 miles.
We both came away with a book’s worth of recollections and a deep appreciation for the generosity we were shown everywhere we went.
When Bly offered it, her editors thought it was a brilliant idea. “Brinkwire News in Condensed Form.”