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The American Experience
The Nellie Bly Song Madhouse Memoir

Excerpts from "Around the World in Seventy-Two Days"


On November 14, 1889, Nellie Bly set off on her race around the world in an attempt to beat the "record" set in Jules Verne's fictional book, "Around the World in 80 Days." People from around the world watched to see if this young woman could get along on such a trip, alone. Beating the record with eight days to spare, she proved to all that "energy rightly applied can accomplish anything." Upon her return, she wrote "Nellie Bly's Book: Around the World in Seventy-Two Days," an account of her remarkable journey.


Chapter I  -  A Proposal to Girdle the Earth

What gave me the idea?

It is sometimes difficult to tell exactly what gives birth to an idea. Ideas are the chief stock in trade of newspaper writers and generally they are the scarcest stock in market, but they do come occasionally.



Chapter II  -  The Start

On Thursday, November 14, 1889 at 9.40:30 o'clock, I started on my tour around the world. Those who think that night is the best part of the day and that morning was made for sleep, know how uncomfortable they feel when for some reason they have to get up with -- well, the milkmen.



Chapter III  -  Southhampton to Jules Verne’s

"Mr. and Mrs. Jules Verne have sent a special letter asking that if possible you will stop to see them," the London correspondent said to me, as we were on our way to the wharf.

"Oh, how I should like to see them!" I exclaimed, adding in the same breath, "Isn’t it hard to be forced to decline such a treat?"

My escort after giving some order to the porter, went out to see about my ticket, so I took a survey of an English railway compartment. The little square in which I sat looked like a hotel omnibus and was about as comfortable. The two red leather seats in it run across the car, one backing the engine, the other backing the rear of the train. There was a door on either side and one could hardly have told that there was a dingy lamp there to cast a light on the scene had not the odor from it been so loud. I carefully lifted the rug that covered the thing I had fallen over, curious to see what could be so necessary to an English railway carriage as to occupy such a prominent position. I found a harmless object that looked like a bar of iron and had just dropped the rug in place when the door opened and the porter catching the iron at one end, pulled it out, replacing it with another like it in shape and size.

"Put your feet on the foot warmer and get warm, Miss," he said, and I mechanically did as he advised.

… Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament were pointed out to me, and the Thames across which we drove, I felt that I was taking what might be called a bird’s-eye-view of London. A great many foreigners have taken views in the same rapid way of America, and afterwards gone home and written books about America, Americans and Americanisms.

We drove first to the London office of the New York "World." After receiving the cables that were waiting for my arrival, I started for the American Legation to get a passport as I had been instructed by cable.

We traveled from Boulogne to Amiens in a compartment with an English couple and a Frenchman. There was one foot-warmer and the day was cold. We all tried to put our feet on the one foot warmer and the result was embarrassing. The Frenchman sat facing me and as I was conscious of having tramped on someone’s toes, and as he looked at me angrily all the time above the edge of his newspaper, I had a guilty feeling of knowing whose toes had been tramped on.



Chapter IV  -  Jules Verne at Home

M. Jules Verne and Mme. Verne, accompanied by Mr. R.H. Sherard, a Paris journalist, stood on the platform waiting our arrival.

When I saw them I felt as any other woman would have done under the circumstances. I wondered if my face was travel-stained, and if my hair was tossed. I thought regretfully, had I been traveling on an American train, I should have been able to make my toilet en route, so that when I stepped off at Amiens and faced the famous novelist and his charming wife, I would have been as trim and tidy as I would had I been receiving them in my own home.

M. Verne asked me what my line of travel was to be, and I was very happy to speak one thing that he could understand, so I told him.

"My line of travel is from New York to London, then Calais, Brindisi, Port Said, Ismailia, Suez, Aden, Colombo, Penang, Singapore, Hong Kong, Yokohama, San Francisco, New York."

"Why do you not go to Bombay as my hero Phileas Fogg did?" M. Verne asked.

"Because I am more anxious to save time than a young widow," I answered.

"You may save a young widower before you return," M. Verne said with a smile.

I smile with a superior knowledge, as women, fancy free, always will at such insinuation.

I looked at the watch on my wrists and saw that my time was getting short. There was only one train that I could take from here to Calais, and if I missed it I might just as well return to New York by the way I came, for the loss of that train meant one weeks delay.



Chapter V  -  On to Brindisi

Bidding a hearty good-bye to Mr. Shepard, I started again of my tour of the world, and the visit to Jules Verne was a thing of the past. I had gone without sleep and rest; I had traveled many miles out of my way for the privilege of meeting M. and Mme. Verne and I felt that I had gone around the world for that pleasure, I should not have considered the price too high.

The train which carried us to Calais is, I infer from what I have heard, the pride of France. It is called the Club train, and is built on the plan of the vestibule trains in America. The carriages are so narrow, that after having been accustomed to wide ones, the club train seems like a toy.

There are pleasanter places in the world to waste time in than Calais. I walked down along the pier and looked at the light-house, which I am told is one of the most perfect in the world, throwing its light farther than any other. It is a revolting light, and it throws out long rays that seem so little above our heads that I found myself dodging to avoid being struck. Of course, that was purely imaginary on my part, for the rays are just the opposite to being near the ground and the sky like the laths of an unfinished partition. I wonder if the people of Calais ever saw the moon and the stars.

… I the course of the afternoon we passed some high and picturesque mountains that were covered with a white frost. I found that even wearing my ulster and wrapped in a rug I was none too warm. About eight o’clock in the morning we reached Modena.

… Half an hour later we were in Italy. I was anxiously waiting to see that balmy, sunny land, but though I pressed my face close to the frosty window pane bleak night denied me even one glimpse of sunny Italy and its dusky people. I went to bed early. It was so very cold that I could not keep warm out of bed, and I cannot say that I got much warmer in bed. The berths were provided with only one blanket each. I piled all my clothing on the berth and spent half the night lying awake thinking how fortunate the passengers were the week previous on this train. Just in the very same place that we were traveling through, Italian bandits had attacked the train and I thought, with regretful envy, if the passengers then felt the scarcity of blankets they at least had some excitement to make their blood circulate.

… All day I traveled through Italy -- sunny Italy, along the Adriatic Sea. The fog still hung in a heavy cloud over the earth, and only once did I get a glimpse of the lane I had heard so much about. It was evening, just at the hour of sunset, when we stopped at some station. I went out on the platform, and the fog seemed to lift for an instant, and I saw on one side a beautiful beach and a smooth bay dotted with boats bearing oddly-shaped and brightly colored sails, which somehow looked to me like mammoth butterflies, dipping, dipping about in search of honey. Most of the sails were red, and as the sun kissed them with renewed warmth, just before leaving us in darkness, the sails looked as if they were composed of brilliant fire.



Chapter VI  -  "Two Beautiful Black Eyes"

It was in the afternoon when the Victoria anchored at Port Said. We were all on deck eagerly watching for the first sight of land, ,and though that sight showed us a wide, sandy beach, and some uninteresting two-storied white houses with arcade fronts, still it did not lessen our desire to go ashore. I suppose that would have been the result under the circumstances had Port Said been the most desolate place on earth.

… While standing looking after a train of camels that had just come in loaded with firewood I saw some Egyptian women. They were small in statue and shapelessly clad in black. Over their faces, beginning just below the eyes, they wore black veils that fell almost to their knees. As if fearing that the veil alone would not destroy all semblance of features they wear a thing that spans the face between the hair and the veil down the line of their noses. In some cases this appears to be of gold, and in others it is composed of some black material. One Egyptian woman carried a little naked baby with her. She held it on her hips, its little black legs clinging close to her waist much after the fashion of a boy climbing a pole.

… Where we anchored at Suez some claim is the historic place where the Israelites crossed the Red Sea. Some people who bother themselves greatly about facts, figures and ancient history bought views, which showed that at certain stages of the tide, people, in even this day, can wade around there without any risk of life or comfort. The next morning when we arose we were out of sight of land and well out on the Red Sea. The weather now was very hot, but still some of the passengers did their best to make things lively on board. One evening a number of young men gave a minstrel show. They displayed both energy and perseverance in preparing for it as well as in the execution of it. One end of the deck was set aside for the show. A stage was put up and the customary green curtain hung in place during the service as drop curtain between acts, as well appearing before and after the performance.

… Just before we came to Aden we passed in the sea a number of high brown mountains. They are known as the Twelve Apostles. Shortly after this we came in sight of Aden. It looked to us like a large, bare mountain of wonderful height, but even by the aid of glassed we were unable to tell that it was inhabited. Shortly after eleven o’clock in the morning we anchored in the bay. Our boat was soon surrounded by a number of small boats, which brought to us men who had things to sell, and the wonderful divers of the East.



Chapter VII  -  Aden to Colombo

We landed at a well-built pier and walked up the finely-cut, white-stone steps from the boat to the land. Instantly we were surrounded by half-clad black people, all of whom, after the manner of hack-drivers at railway stations, were clamoring for our favor. They were not all drivers, however. Mingling with the drivers were merchants with jewelry, ostrich plumes and boas to sell, runners for hotels, beggars, cripples and guides. This conglomeration besought us to listen to every individual one of them until a native policeman, in the Queen’s uniform, came forward and pushed the black fellows back with his hands, sometimes hastening their retreat with his boot.

On the road we saw black people of many different tribes. A number of women I noticed, who walked proudly along, their brown, bare feet stepping lightly on the smooth road. The had long purple-black hair, which was always adorned with a long stiff feather, dyed of brilliant red, green, purple and like striking shades. They wore no other ornament than the colored feather, which lent them an air of pride, when seen beside the much bejeweled people of that quaint town. Many of the women, who seemed very poor indeed, were lavishly dressed in jewelry. They did not wear much else, it is true, but in a place as hot as Aden, jewelry must be as much as anyone would care to wear.



Chapter IX  -  Delayed Five Days

Colombo reminded me of Newport, RI. Possibly -- in my eyes, at least -- Colombo is more beautiful. The homes may not be as expensive, but they are more artistic and picturesque. The roads are wide and perfect; the view of the sea is grand, and while unlike in its tropical aspect, still there is something about Colombo that recalls Newport.

… I visited at the temples in Colombo, finding little of interest, and always having to pay liberally for the privilege of looking about. One day I went to the Buddhist college, and while there I met the famous high priest of Ceylon. He was sitting on a verandah that surrounded his low bungalow, writing on a table placed before him. His gown consisted of a straight piece of old gold silk wrapped deftly around the body and over the waist. The silk had fallen to his waist, but after he greeted us he pulled it up around his shoulders. He was a copper-colored old fellow, with gray hair that was shaved very close to the head. He spoke English quite well and among other things he told me he received hundreds of letters from the United States every year and that they found more converts to the Buddhist religion in America than in any other land.



Chapter X  -  In the Pirate Seas

There are no sidewalks in Singapore, and blue and white in the painting of the houses largely predominate over other colors. Families seem to occupy the second story, the lower being generally devoted to business purposes. Through latticed windows we got occasional glimpses of peeping Chinese women in gay gowns, Chinese babies bundled in shapeless, wadded garments, while down below through widely opened fronts we could see people pursing their trades. Barbering is the principal trade. A chair, a comb, a basin and a knife are all the tools a man needs to open shop, and he finds as many patrons if he sets up shop in the open street as he would under shelter. Sitting doubled over, Chinamen have their heads shaven back almost to the crown, when a spot about the size of a tiny saucer is left to bear the crop of hair which forms the pig-tail. When braided and finished with a silk tassel the Chinaman’s hair is "done" for the next fortnight.



Chapter XI  -  Against the Monsoon

The terrible swell of the sea during the monsoon was the most beautiful thing I ever saw. I would sit breathless on deck watching the bow of the ship standing upright on a wave then dash headlong down as if intending to carry us to the bottom. Some of the men made no secret of being seasick and were stretched out in their chairs on deck where they might hope to catch the first breath of air.



Chapter XII  -  British China

We first saw the city of Hong Kong in the early morning. Gleaming white were the castle-like homes on the tall mountain side. We fired a cannon as we entered the bay, the captain saying this was the custom of mail ships. A beautiful bay was this magnificent basin, walled on every side by high mountains.

… The town seemed in a state of untidiness, the road was dirty, the mobs of natives we met were filthy, the houses were dirty, the numberless boats lying along the wharf, which invariably were crowded with dirt people, were dirty, our carriers were dirty fellows, their untidy pig-tails twisted around their half-shaven heads.

… The theatre in Hong Kong knows few professional troupes, but the amateur actors in the English colony leave little to be desired in the way of splendid entertainments. The very best people in the town take part, and I believe they all furnish their own stage costumes. The regiments stationed there turn out very creditable actors in the persons of the young officers. I went one night to see "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves" as given by the Amateur Dramatic Club of Hong Kong. It was a new version of the old story filled with local hits arranged for the club by a military captain; the music was by the band-master of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. The beautiful and artistic scenery was designed and executed by two army men, as were the lime-light effects. Spectators came to see the theatre in their chairs instead of carriages.



Chapter XIII  -  Christmas in Canton

I was warned not to be surprised if the Chinamen should stone me while I was I Canton. I was told that Chinese women usually spat in the faces of female tourists when the opportunity offered. However, I had no trouble. The Chinese are not pleasant appearing people; they usually look as if life had given them nothing but trouble; but as we were carried along, the men in the stores would rush out to look at me. They did not take any interest in the men with me but gazed at me as if I was something new. They showed no sign of animosity, but the few women I met looked as curiously at me, and less kindly.



Chapter XIV  -  To the Land of the Mikado

I spent New Year’s Eve between Hong Kong and Yokohama. The day had been so warm that we wore no wraps. In the forepart of the evening the passengers sat together in Social Hall talking, telling stories and laughing at them. The captain owned as organette which he brought into the hall, and he and the doctor took turns at grinding out the music. Later in the evening we went to the dining-hall where the purser had punch and champagne and oysters for us, a rare treat which he had prepared in America just for this occasion.



Chapter XV  -  One Hundred and Twenty Hours in Japan

After seeing Hong Kong with its wharfs crowded with dirty boats manned by still dirtier people, and its streets packed with a filthy crowd, Yokohama has a cleaned-up Sunday appearance. Travelers are taken from the ships, which anchor some distance out in the bay, to the land in small steam launches. The first-class hotels in the different ports have their individual launches, but like American hotel omnibuses, while being run by the hotel to assist in procuring patrons, the traveler pays for them just the same.

… I always have an inclination to laugh when I look at the Japanese men in their native dress. Their legs are small and their trousers are skin tight. The upper garment, with its great wide sleeves, is as loose as the lower is tight. When they finish their "get up" by placing their dish-pan shaped hat upon their heads, the wonder grows how such small legs can carry it all!



Chapter XVI  -  Across the Pacific

It was a bright sunny morning when I left Yokohama. A number of new friends in launches escorted me to the Oceanic, and when we hoisted anchor. The steam launches blew loud blasts upon their whistles in farewell to me, and the band upon the Omaha played "Home, Sweet Home," "Hail Columbia," and "The Girl I Left Behind Me," in my honor; and I waved my handkerchief so long after they were out of sight that my arms were sore for days. My feverish eagerness to be off again on my race around the world was strongly mingled with regret at leaving such charming friends and such a lovely land.



Chapter XVII  -  Across the Continent

I only remember my trip across the continent as one maze of happy greetings, happy wishes, congratulating 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 mountains, on–on–on! It was glorious! A ride worthy a queen. They say no man or woman in America ever received ovations like those given me during my flying trip across the continent. The Americans turned out to do honor to an American girl who had been the first to make a record of a flying trip around the world, and I rejoiced with them that it was an American girl who had done it.


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