As everyone grows excited for summer travel, venturing across the globe by plane, train, or car, it’s interesting to note that one of history’s most famous exhibitions began in Hoboken and ended in Jersey City. That’s right, the first trip Around the World in 80 Days. Nellie Bly, otherwise known as Elizabeth Cochran Seaman, successfully traveled around the world in only 80 days, and her journey was book-ended right here in Hudson County. Read on to learn all about Nellie Bly and the trip around the world in 80 days.
Around the World in 80 Days
Before the invention of the airplane, it wasn’t clear if it was possible for a person to traverse the entire globe in just 80 days. It seemed a feat so daring, it took a science fiction writer to imagine it. The French author Jules Verne had imagined man traveling From the Earth to the Moon (1865), men on a Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), and men voyaging Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870).
But just as incredulously, he imagined a man could circumnavigate the globe by traveling Around the World in 80 Days (1872). Only, it was not a man who would make the trip, but a woman by the name of Nellie Bly. In doing so, Nellie traveled by train, steamship, rickshaw, horse, and donkey — and she bought a monkey, too.
The Incomparable Nellie Bly
Nellie Bly was the pen name chosen by Elizabeth Cochran Seaman, a puckish girl born outside of Pittsburgh. She began her career in journalism by writing a scathing response to a newspaper column titled, “What Girls Are Good For” in the Pittsburgh Dispatch which alleged a woman’s duty was to birth children and run a household.
Impressed with Nellie’s passionate prose, the editor gave her a full-time position. Looking for greater exposure, and unhappy with being relegated to theater and arts reporting, Nellie left Pittsburgh for New York City where she cajoled her way into the offices of Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper, the New York World. She took an undercover assignment where she feigned mental health issues to enter the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island — later renamed Roosevelt Island. There, she witnessed firsthand the brutality and neglect suffered by women at the asylum. She wrote an exposé entitled, Ten Days in a Mad-House, which caused a sensation, prompting reform while skyrocketing her to fame. It was tough to imagine how she could possibly follow up such a commercial success.
Around the World Begins in Hoboken
Nellie racked her brain for a follow-up achievement. Tossing in her bed late one night with an aching head, she thought, “I need a vacation; why not take a trip around the world?”
She recalled in her tell-all-tale, “If I could do it as quickly as [the character] Phileas Fogg did [in Around the World in 80 Days], I should go. Then I wondered if it were possible… afterwards, I went easily off to sleep with the determination to know before I saw my bed again if Phileas Fogg’s record could be broken.”
She propositioned her editor, who responded that, “It is impossible for you… In the first place, you are a woman… you would need to carry so much baggage that it would detain you in making rapid changes… there is no use talking about it; no one but a man can do this.”
Nellie replied, “Start the man, and I’ll start the same day for some other newspaper and beat him.” Nellie had convinced her editor and soon made plans for her record-breaking trip.
The Dress That Could Stand Constant Wear for 3 Months
As any woman knows, one’s dress is a vital component of any excursion. It sets the stage, it announces your arrival, and it accompanies your every move, every moment. The very next morning, Nellie went to a fashionable dressmaker and ordered a custom-made outfit worthy of such an undertaking. She specified, “I want a dress that will stand constant wear for three months.” Nellie decided on “a plain blue broadcloth and a quiet plaid camel’s hair as the most durable and suitable combination for a traveling gown.”
What to Bring?
Anyone going on a trip knows the trials and tribulations in deciding what to bring. “Packing that bag was the most difficult undertaking of my life; there was so much to go into such little space,” Nellie wrote. She decided to bring: two traveling caps, three veils, a pair of slippers, a complete outfit of toilet articles, ink-stand, pens, pencils, and copy-paper, pins, needles and thread, a dressing gown, a tennis blazer, a small flask and a drinking cup, several complete changes of underwear, a liberal supply of handkerchiefs and — most bulky of all — a jar of cold cream to keep her face from chapping in the varied climates she would encounter.
At 9:40AM on November 14, 1889, Nellie departed Hoboken upon the Augusta Victoria, a steamer of the Hamburg America Line— currently situated near Pier A.
Before that morning, the 25-year-old Nellie had never taken a “sea voyage,” and when she was asked whether she got sea-sick, she immediately “flew to the railing” and succumbed to the “disease of the wave.”
Meeting Jules Verne (The Inventor of Around the World in 80 Days)
The only diversion she allowed herself was a brief visit to France to meet the author, Jules Verne, the author of Around the World in 80 Days.
She found herself taken with Mr. and Mrs. Verne, their shaggy, black dog and white Angora cat. Together, Jules and Nellie consulted the map that Jules had imagined and cross-referenced it with Nellie’s itinerary. Upon departing, Jules said, “If you do it in 79 days, I shall applaud with both hands.” At this point, Nellie knew “he doubted the possibility of my doing it in 75, as I had promised.” At last, Jules tipped a glass and spoke in the little English he knew: “Good luck, Nellie Bly.”
A Covert Contender
To add further intrigue to the story, a secret competitor — Elizabeth Bisland — sought to upstage Nellie by heading the opposite direction, prompted by a rival publication, Cosmopolitan magazine.
Completely unaware, Nellie only learned of the race on Christmas Day in Hong Kong when a man told her that she was to lose her race.
“Lose it? I don’t understand. What do you mean?” Nellie asked.
“Aren’t you having a race around the world?” the man asked.
“Yes; quite right. I am running a race with Time,” Nellie replied.
“Time? I don’t think that’s her name,” the man said. He explained, “Did you not know? The day you left New York, another woman started out to beat your time, and she’s going to do it. She left here three days ago.”
Ultimately, Elizabeth’s rough crossing from England to America — and Nellie’s specially charted single-car train speeding her across the country — gave Nellie the narrow win as she arrived in Jersey City.
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The Finish Line: Jersey City
Nellie Bly arrived in Jersey City near Exchange Place at 3:51PM on January 27th in a time of 72 days, 6 hours and 11 minutes, setting a new world record.
Illustration of Nellie Bly, in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 1890. Caption reads: “Around the world in seventy-two days and six hours – reception of Nellie Bly at Jersey City on the completion of her journey.”
She recalled, “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.”
Upon arriving in Jersey City, she felt like we all do when finally returning to Hudson County: “[I] wanted to yell with the crowd, not because I had gone around the world in seventy-two days, but because I was home again.”
NOTE: All quotes are Nellie’s own words, taken from her book Around the World in Seventy-Two Days.