Written, Produced and Directed by
DAVID OGDEN STIERS
RALPH HAMMACK, JR.
ARTHUR J. KUHR
FALCON HELICOPTERS, PITTSBURGH
Original Music Composed and Arranged by
Composed by STEPHEN J. FOSTER
Performed by BRETT KROEGER
Title Design and Graphics/Animation
Additional Archival Research
MUSEUM OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK
THE NEW YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY
THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY
GEORGE EASTMAN HOUSE
NEW ENGLAND DEPOSITORY LIBRARY
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AMERICAN HISTORY -
NATIONAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL ARCHIVES -
STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF WISCONSIN
CHICAGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY
MYSTIC SEAPORT FILM & VIDEO ARCHIVES
CENTER FOR AMERICAN MUSIC
CARNEGIE LIBRARY OF PITTSBURGH
HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA
INDIANA UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA
THE PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE
STUHR MUSEUM OF THE PRAIRIE PIONEER
ROOSEVELT ISLAND OPERATING CORPORATION
MAYORS OFFICE OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK
THE PLAYERS CLUB
WIDENER LIBRARY, HARVARD UNIVERSITY
THE FREEDOM FORUM
Film Processing by
Post Production Editor
KENNETH T. JACKSON
THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
Series Theme Adaptation
MARI LOU GRANGER
THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE is a production of WGBH/Boston.
Major funding for this series is provided by the
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Additional funding provided by
the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
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Corporate funding is provided by
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Around the World in 72 DaysFollow intrepid journalist Nellie Bly on her record-breaking journey
On January 25, 1890, the world waited for a young reporter named Nellie Bly to arrive back home. For 72 days, as she jumped cargo ships, trains, tugboats, and rickshaws, newspaper readers had been following her progress in one of the most highly publicized journeys of all time. Never before had anyone — man or woman — circled the globe with such speed, outdoing the "record" of eighty days set by Jules Verne's popular fictional character, the legendary Phileas T. Fogg. The journey would make her famous.
"Around the World in 72 Days" paints a portrait of a remarkably ambitious woman who, in an era of Victorian reserve, would become a household name by doing things a woman wasn't supposed to do. "At a time in history when women's sphere was the home and children," notes producer Christine Lesiak, "Nellie Bly extended that sphere to the entire world, and became a symbol of American pride and power."
By the time Bly embarked on her famous trip, she had already made a name for herself as one of Joseph Pulitzer's top reporters, documenting the lives of America's growing underclass. "She seemed to know how to pick the assignment that would put her on center stage," says Brooke Kroeger, Bly's biographer. Her exploits titillated readers and earned her a reputation for fearlessness among the readers of New York's newspapers. In the process, she also changed the way news was gathered.
The first story to put her on center stage was a harrowing account of her experience inside a madhouse. On a dare from the editor of Pulitzer's "New York World," Bly, masquerading as a madwoman, spent ten terrifying days in the most notorious mental asylum in New York City — the women's asylum on Blackwell's Island. Her exposé of the cruel and even life-threatening treatment she and other patients endured shook the city to its foundation and was reprinted nationwide. The series resulted in increased funds to improve conditions at the asylum, and earned Bly instant renown, as well as grudging respect from her newspaper colleagues. Never before had a journalist gone to such lengths to pursue a story. The new brand of undercover, investigative reporting would continue to grab headlines for another ten years.
"The New York World" immediately recognized "stunt" journalism's powerful appeal and over the next two years sent Bly undercover in countless guises: a domestic employee, a chorus girl, an unwed mother. Soon all the papers had their own "stunt girls," but none could outdo Bly's style and derring-do. By the age of 23, Nellie Bly was larger than life; readers loved her, and her adventures sold newspapers. But none of Bly's exploits prepared her for her greatest stunt ever — a race around the world.
"When Nellie Bly actually decided to go all around the world," historian Mitch Stephen tells THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, "I mean that was like going up in the space shuttle!" Wearing what would become her trademark checkered coat and carrying a single bag, Bly set out in November. Despite numerous perils, Bly said that she "would rather go back to New York dead than not a winner."
She returned in triumph, a celebrity. A hotel, a train, and a racehorse were named after her. Just twenty-five years old, Bly was the most famous woman on earth.
Written, Produced and Directed by
David McCullough, Series Host: Good evening and welcome to The American Experience. I'm David McCullough.
In the famous novel Around The World in 80 Days by Jules Verne, an Englishman, Phileas Fogg, sets off to circle the world in the fastest time possible and for the sole purpose of winning a gentleman's wager.
In others of his books, Jules Verne specialized in amazing developments of science and technology still to come. He forecast the invention of airplanes, the submarine, even rockets to the moon. But in Around the World in 80 Days he wrote only of what, theoretically, was already possible when the book appeared, in 1873, the heyday of such nineteenth century wonders as the Suez Canal and the new transcontinental railroad across America. The world had become a great deal smaller, and this Verne dramatized as no one ever had.
Yet it was not until 1889 that anyone dared try what Phileas Fogg had done and the lone adventurer who did was neither a gentleman nor ficticious, but an intrepid young American woman who was determined to make the journey even faster and with a lot more than a bet riding on the outcome.
She was Nellie Bly and she stands now in history as one of the earliest of a long line of women who distinguished themselves in what had been the all-male world of journalism and thereby brought increasing interest and vitality to the pages of American newspapers.
Later would come Ida Tarbell who took on the Standard Oil Company, Dorothy Thompson, who bravely reported the rise of Hitler, Marguerite Higgens, who covered the Korean War... the list could be very long.
In the opening lines of his story, Jules Verne describes Phileas Fogg as a reserved personage who seemed "always to avoid attracting attention." That definitely could not be said of Nellie Bly, which is another part of our story.
NARRATION: NOVEMBER, 1889: A YOUNG REPORTER PREPARED TO EMBARK ON ONE OF THE MOST PUBLICIZED JOURNEYS OF ALL TIME.
HER MISSION -- TO BREAK THE RECORD SET BY THE LEGENDARY, FICTIONAL CHARACTER -- PHILEAS T. FOGG.
FOR THE NEXT TWO AND A HALF MONTHS, THE WHOLE WORLD WOULD FOLLOW THE ADVENTURES OF NELLIE BLY.
Mitch Stephens, Historian: This was new and this was different and this was exciting. And when Nellie Bly actually decided to go all around the world, I mean that was -- that was like going up in the space shuttle!
NARRATION: NELLIE BLY BECAME ONE OF THE MOST FAMOUS WOMEN IN THE WORLD BY DOING THINGS A WOMAN WASN'T SUPPOSED TO DO. SHE POSED AS AN UNWED MOTHER TO EXPOSE THE BABY-BUYING TRADE... A THIEF TO EXPERIENCE A NIGHT IN JAIL...AN INSANE WOMAN TO REPORT ON LIFE INSIDE A MADHOUSE. AND EVERYTHING SHE DID SOLD NEWSPAPERS.
Maureen Corrigan, Writer: There was something about her voice, something about the bravado that her pieces exuded that I think really captured readers' imagination and really made her the premiere female reporter of her time.
Brooke Kroeger, Biographer: She seemed to know how to pick the assignment that would put her on center stage. I think it was her most remarkable gift.
Muriel Nussbaum, Actress: "I wonder when they'll send a girl to travel 'round the sky, read the answer in the stars, they wait for Nellie Bly."
NARRATION: A FEW YEARS BEFORE HER DEATH, NELLIE BLY WROTE:
"IF ONE WOULD BECOME GREAT, TWO THINGS ARE ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY. THE FIRST IS TO KNOW YOURSELF, THE SECOND IS NOT TO LET THE WORLD KNOW YOU. "
THE WORLD NEVER KNEW WHAT LAY AT THE HEART OF HER REMARKABLE AMBITION. SHE NEVER SPOKE OF THE DARKEST DAYS OF HER CHILDHOOD.
HER GIVEN NAME WAS ELIZABETH JANE COCHRAN, BUT EVERYONE CALLED HER PINK. SHE WAS BORN IN THE LAST YEAR OF THE CIVIL WAR, MAY 5, 1864, IN COCHRAN'S MILL'S PENNSYLVANIA.
THE TOWN WAS NAMED FOR HER FATHER, JUDGE MICHAEL COCHRAN. HE HAD TEN CHILDREN WITH HIS FIRST WIFE. AFTER SHE DIED, HE MARRIED AGAIN.
PINK WAS HIS THIRTEENTH AND MOST REBELLIOUS CHILD.
Brooke Kroeger: Great confidence! Dressed in pink -- everyone else is dressed in brown and black. Her mother has taught her to gather attention and revel in it. And these are lessons that were never, never lost.
NARRATION: WHEN PINK WAS SIX YEARS OLD, HER LIFE CHANGED SUDDENLY AND FOREVER. HER FATHER DIED, LEAVING NO WILL TO PROTECT THE INTERESTS OF HIS YOUNG SECOND FAMILY. THE ELEGANT MANSION THEY HAD LIVED IN FOR ONLY A YEAR WAS AUCTIONED OFF.
WITH FIFTEEN HEIRS THERE WAS LITTLE TO GO AROUND AND PINK'S MOTHER FELT SHE HAD NO CHOICE BUT TO MARRY AGAIN.
Maureen Corrigan: She and her mother were thrown on very hard times when her father died. And then her mother made a disastrous marriage after her father's death to a man who abused her and who she finally had to divorce. So I think Nellie saw a lot of tough times and a lot of the dark side of life.
NARRATION: WHEN PINK COCHRAN WAS 14 YEARS OLD, SHE TESTIFIED AT HER MOTHER'S DIVORCE TRIAL. THE FUTURE REPORTER PAINTED A DEVASTATING PORTRAIT OF A MARRIAGE.
"MY STEPFATHER HAS BEEN GENERALLY DRUNK SINCE HE MARRIED MY MOTHER. WHEN DRUNK HE IS VERY CROSS AND CROSS WHEN SOBER. I HAVE HEARD HIM SCOLD MOTHER AND CALL HER NAMES -- A WHORE AND A BITCH... I'VE SEEN HER CRY."
Brooke Kroeger: Watching these events unfold, and you're someone with Nellie's spirit, what do you say to yourself? This is not a sure thing. Love, marriage may be nice but it is not going to secure my future or my family's future.
NARRATION: PINK COCHRAN WOULD DEPEND ON NO ONE. IN A VICTORIAN WORLD, SHE WOULD BE AN INDEPENDENT WOMAN.
AT AGE 15 SHE ENROLLED AT THE INDIANA NORMAL SCHOOL IN WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA -- DETERMINED TO ENTER ONE OF THE FEW CAREERS OPEN TO WOMEN. SHE WOULD BECOME A TEACHER.
BUT AFTER ONLY ONE TERM HER MONEY RAN OUT. SHE WOULD HAVE TO SEEK HER FORTUNE WITHOUT THE ADVANTAGE OF A FORMAL EDUCATION.
NARRATION: LOOKING DOWN ON THE CITY OF PITTSBURGH, SAID A WRITER FOR THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY, IS LIKE "LOOKING INTO HELL WITH THE LID OFF."
PITTSBURGH WOULD BE PINK COCHRAN'S HOME FOR THE NEXT SEVEN YEARS -- AND THE PLACE WHERE LUCK AND AMBITION WOULD FINALLY COME TOGETHER.
Brooke Kroeger: Pittsburgh was industrializing. Great fortunes were being made. It was a place of opportunity and growth. Her brothers had preceded her to the town. Her mother came to make a home for them. They found their way, they took in boarders. They made it work.
NARRATION: IN THE LIVES OF THE YOUNG WORKING WOMEN SHE MET, PINK SAW THE DARK SIDE OF INDUSTRIAL AMERICA. GIRLS AS YOUNG AS 9 OR 10 WORKED IN CANNERIES, FOUNDRIES, GLASS FACTORIES. THEIR ONLY WAY OUT -- MARRIAGE. BUT PINK COCHRAN YEARNED FOR MORE THAN FACTORY WORK OR A HUSBAND. SHE WANTED THE SAME OPPORTUNITIES AS HER BROTHERS, WHO LANDED WHITE COLLAR JOBS QUICKLY IN SPITE OF THEIR MEAGER EDUCATION.
Brooke Kroeger: Why can't she be a clerk? Of course at this time only young men can be clerks, not women. Why can't she be a conductor on a Pullman Palace car?
Why can't she do the same thing? Simply because she's a woman?
NARRATION: FOR FIVE YEARS SHE STRUGGLED -- HELPING HER MOTHER RUN THE BOARDING HOUSE, SEEKING WORK AS A NANNY OR A TUTOR. PINK WAS 20 YEARS OLD AND GOING NOWHERE, WHEN SHE READ A COLUMN IN THE PITTSBURGH DISPATCH BY ERASMUS WILSON, KNOWN AS Q.O., THE QUIET OBSERVER.
NARRATION: Q.O. WAS A CIVIL WAR VETERAN WITH A COURTLY MANNER WHO LOOKED ON THE PAST WITH NOSTALGIA. HE SAID THAT GIRLS WERE USELESS OUTSIDE THE SPHERE OF MARRIAGE. THEY SHOULD LEARN TO SPIN, SEW, COOK AND RAISE OBEDIENT CHILDREN. A WOMAN WHO TRIED TO MAKE A LIVING OUTSIDE THAT SPHERE, HE WROTE, WAS NOTHING LESS THAN A MONSTROSITY.
Brooke Kroeger: Nellie reads this column and just goes into a rage. Because, of course, he has not addressed the question of the young women who have really no choice but to make their way. They don't have families taking care of them.
So she writes a letter that is really imbued with all this passion. The editor himself reads the letter. He says, "This writer, who has signed herself, Lonely Orphan Girl (so he probably has an idea that it's a woman), has no style, no punctuation, no grammar, but I see a spirit here. I see a spirit here."
He runs an ad. A little snippet on the editorial page that says, "Lonely Orphan Girl, will you please come forward." And she does.
NARRATION: AS SHE LATER TOLD THE STORY, PINK COCHRAN SO IMPRESSED THE MANAGING EDITOR OF THE DISPATCH THAT HE HIRED HER ON THE SPOT.
Ellen Fitzpatrick: The odds are astronomical against such a thing occurring. At the same time, it was an unsettled age and amazing things did happen and her very life is the evidence of that.
Nelly Bly, Nelly Bly,
Bring de broom along
We'll sweep do kitchen clean, my dear,
and hab a little song
NARRATION: PINK COCHRAN TOOK HER BYLINE FROM A STEPHEN FOSTER SONG. SHE WASN'T THE FIRST WOMAN TO WORK FOR A NEWSPAPER. THERE WAS MARGARET FULLER WHO WROTE FOR HORACE GREELY'S RESPECTED TRIBUNE... AMELIA BLOOMER WHO STARTED HER OWN NEWS-PAPER, THE LILY, FILLED WITH EDITORIALS ABOUT WOMEN'S RIGHTS...AND JENNY JUNE WHO PIONEERED THE WOMEN'S PAGE. BUT NELLIE BLY WANTED TO WRITE ABOUT WHAT SHE SAW ALL AROUND HER -- POVERTY, CHILD LABOR, DIVORCE. IN ONE STORY, BLY INTERVIEWED FACTORY GIRLS, NOT ABOUT THEIR JOBS, BUT ABOUT THEIR LIVES AFTER WORK. SOME CAME HOME TO EMPTINESS AND BOREDOM. OTHERS WENT TO BARS AND GOT DRUNK WITH STRANGERS. BLY ASKED ONE YOUNG WOMAN, "WHY DO YOU RISK YOUR REPUTATION IN SUCH A WAY?"
Brooke Kroeger: The girl says, "I have no money, I have no books, I have no where to go. I work all day in a miserable place. What do you want from me?" And I think that -- it's a much more powerful way of telling the story of the drudgery of their lives than simply chronicling what they do hour by hour.
NARRATION: BUT OVER TIME, BLY'S EDITOR ASSIGNED HER STORIES ABOUT FLOWER SHOWS, FASHION AND RUBBER RAINCOATS. TRAPPED ON THE LADIES PAGE, SHE REBELLED -- AND INVENTED HERSELF ALL OVER AGAIN.
Brooke Kroeger: She gets the idea to go to Mexico. Become a foreign reporter. As she put it herself, to do something no girl has ever done before. She writes fantastic letters back from Mexico.... about the food, about the character of the people. There's no detail that escapes her.
When she goes to a bull fight, she describes how they keep their britches up. I mean, things that you might not even have the sense to think to ask she's answered that question for you.
NARRATION: BLY'S REPORTS FROM MEXICO APPEARED REGULARLY IN THE DISPATCH. HER STRATEGY HAD WORKED SO WELL THAT NOW HER BYLINE WAS PART OF THE HEADLINE. BUT WHEN SHE RETURNED TO HER OLD JOB AND COLLEAGUES LIKE Q.O., SHE FOUND HERSELF BACK ON THE LADIES' PAGE, WRITING STORIES ABOUT THEATER AND THE ARTS. FINALLY, SHE'D HAD ENOUGH. SHE DECIDED TO LEAVE PITTSBURGH FOR GOOD.
Brooke Kroeger: She suddenly doesn't show up for work one day. This is pure Nellie Bly. They look around, they find a note.
It says, "Dear Q.O., I'm off for New York. Look out for me. Bly."
NARRATION: "WHO OWNS THE CITY OF NEW YORK ? THE DEVIL!" SO SAID A 19TH CENTURY PREACHER. BUT FOR AN ASPIRING YOUNG REPORTER, THIS WAS THE PLACE TO BE. BLY ARRIVED IN NEW YORK CITY, POPULATION A MILLION AND A HALF, JUST A YEAR AFTER THE STATUE OF LIBERTY TOOK HER PLACE IN THE HARBOR. SHE HAD COME TO AMERICA'S PUBLISHING CAPITOL, WHERE MAGAZINES LIKE HARPER'S WEEKLY DISPLAYED THE FINE ART OF ENGRAVING, TABLOIDS LIKE THE POLICE GAZETTE TURNED VICE INTO ENTERTAINMENT, AN PHOTOGRAPHER JACOB RIIS EXPOSED THE SHADOWY PLACES WHERE THE OTHER HALF LIVED. ON STREET CORNERS, IMMIGRANT BOYS SOLD THE GREAT NEW YORK DAILIES FOR A PENNY OR TWO APIECE.
Mitch Stephens: If you wanted to be a journalist in New York, you knew the street to visit. It was Park Row, right near City Hall and you could see the Tribune office was one place and the Times office was another and there was The World and there was The Herald.
This was an almost exclusively male crowd. This was not a particularly educated group of people. It was really a little bit more like the Wild West journalistically.
NARRATION: LOOKING DOWN ON PARK ROW, A BRILLIANT NEW CROP OF PUBLISHERS AND EDITORS HATCHED SCHEMES TO SELL MORE NEWSPAPERS. THE MOST AGGRESSIVE AND SUCCESSFUL OF THEM ALL -- JOSEPH PULITZER, PUBLISHER OF THE NEW YORK WORLD. PULITZER DESIGNED HIS PAPER FOR THE IMMIGRANTS POURING INTO NEW YORK CITY. HE ENTERTAINED THEM WITH SENSATIONAL STORIES ABOUT RIOTS, MURDERS AND DISASTERS, EDUCATED THEM WITH CRUSADING EDITORIALS -- AND TAUGHT THEM TO BE AMERICAN. THE WORLD WAS NELLIE BLY'S KIND OF PAPER -- BUT SHE WOULD HAVE JUMPED AT THE CHANCE TO WORK FOR ANY OF THEM. FOR NEARLY SIX MONTHS, SHE KNOCKED ON EVERY DOOR ON PARK ROW.
Mitch Stephens: I think they must have greeted Nellie Bly with her spunk and her desire to be a reporter with a rather condescending amusement. Now isn't this interesting, isn't this cute that this woman thinks she can do these sorts of things. But, she showed them, didn't she?
Maureen Corrigan: She came up with a wonderful ruse to actually meet some of these people. She decided that she would write a free-lance story for the Pittsburgh paper about what it would be like for a woman journalist trying to get a job in New York.
NARRATION: USING HER DISPATCH CREDENTIALS, BLY MADE APPOINTMENTS WITH EVERY MAJOR EDITOR IN THE CITY. SHE ASKED EACH OF THEM THE SAME QUESTION: "WHAT CHANCE DOES A WOMAN HAVE IN JOURNALISM?"
Brooke Kroeger: They basically say no chance. The things a woman is suited for, society reporting for example, she usually does not want to do. No editor in his right mind is going to send a woman to police court or to cover a murder or a fire because it puts her life at peril.
And so basically, why hire a woman when you can hire a man?
NARRATION: ONE EDITOR TOLD BLY THAT WOMEN HAD A PROBLEM WITH ACCURACY, BUT HER METICULOUS REPORTING IMPRESSED SOME OF AMERICA'S TOP JOURNALISTS. THEY CALLED HER "TALENTED...READABLE...BRIGHT AS A NEW PIN."
IT GAVE HER THE CONFIDENCE TO FAST-TALK HER WAY INTO THE OFFICE OF JOHN COCKERILL, MANAGING EDITOR OF PULITZER'S NEW YORK WORLD, AND INTO A BOLD NEW KIND OF JOURNALISM.
Maureen Corrigan: I think there were many times in her life where she managed to be at the right place at the right time and she was the right person for the moment. And so when she met with Pulitzer's managing editor and almost insisted on getting a job as a reporter for the New York World, he had this idea in the back of his mind which was something of a dare -- if you really want to be a reporter, let's see what you've got.
NARRATION: THE CHALLENGE WAS TERRIFYING. BLY WOULD CREATE A NEW IDENTITY, PRETEND TO BE INSANE, AND GET HERSELF COMMITTED TO THE MOST NOTORIOUS MADHOUSE IN NEW YORK CITY. SHE WOULD EXPERIENCE ALL THE HORRORS OF THE ASYLUM FROM AN INMATE'S POINT OF VIEW. ONCE RELEASED, SHE WOULD WRITE AN EXPOSE FOR THE NEW YORK WORLD.IF IT WORKED, SHE WOULD HAVE A JOB.
Ellen Fitzpatrick, Historian: This is actually a brilliant strategy because it allows the reporter to say, I was there. I saw it with my own eyes. This isn't a collection of statistics, this isn't an interview with an asylum keeper, this isn't even a commentary by some poor benighted inmate that has now been let loose who we could never believe anyway because why were they there in the first place. You can believe me.
NARRATION: THE WOMEN'S ASYLUM ON BLACKWELL'S ISLAND HAD LONG FASCINATED WRITERS AND REPORTERS. ON HIS AMERICAN TOUR, CHARLES DICKENS VISITED THE MADHOUSE. HE WAS ENCHANTED BY THE "SPACIOUS AND ELEGANT STAIRCASE," BUT OPPRESSED BY THE HOPELESS ATMOSPHERE. HE LEFT IN A HURRY. SOME YEARS LATER, A REPORTER FOR HARPER'S WEEKLY WROTE A FEATURE STORY ABOUT THE WOMEN'S ASYLUM. AFTER HIS SUPERVISED TOUR, HE CONCLUDED THAT THE ASYLUM WAS A CLEAN AND COMFORTABLE PLACE, WHERE INMATES WERE TREATED FAIRLY -- EVEN TENDERLY. NOW, FOR THE FIRST TIME, A REPORTER WOULD EXPLORE THE ASYLUM THROUGH THE EYES OF A PATIENT.
Brooke Kroeger: This was her chance. She was not going to say no and show any sort of cowardice. She was not going to do that. This was her moment to get hired.
NARRATION: BLY HERSELF CREATED THE SCENARIO FOR HER MADHOUSE ASSIGNMENT. AS SHE LATER WROTE, SHE PRACTICED ALL NIGHT LOOKING DAZED AND CONFUSED IN A MIRROR. THE NEXT MORNING SHE CHECKED INTO A BOARDING HOUSE FOR YOUNG LADIES, CLAIMING TO BE AN IMMIGRANT FROM CUBA NAMED NELLIE BROWN. SOON AFTER HER ARRIVAL, SHE BEGAN RANTING INCOHERENTLY, TERRIFYING THE LANDLADY WHO CALLED THE POLICE. THEY TOOK HER TO POLICE COURT WHERE SHE APPEARED BEFORE A JUDGE.
Brooke Kroeger: The judge looked on her very kindly and thought that she was somebody's darling who'd gone astray. Decided to call in the reporters from all the newspapers to see if running a story about this girl would help bring forward her family.
NARRATION: THE SUN WONDERED: "WHO IS THIS INSANE GIRL?" THE TIMESWROTE OF "THE MYSTERIOUS WAIF WITH THE WILD HUNTED LOOK IN HER EYES." THE NEW YORK WORLD, OF COURSE, SAID NOTHING AT ALL. AT BELLEVUE HOSPITAL, THREE MEDICAL EXPERTS CONCURRED THAT NELLIE BLY SUFFERED FROM DEMENTIA WITH DELUSIONS OF PERSECUTION. THEY TOOK HER BY FERRY TO THE WOMEN'S ASYLUM IN THE EAST RIVER OFF OF MANHATTAN.
Caleb Carr, Writer: Obviously it's one of the first investigative journalist's escapades of deliberately putting yourself in harms way to discover truths about public institutions. And Blackwell's Island was a very frightening place.
NARRATION: WHEN THE DOORS OF THE ASYLUM SHUT BEHIND HER, BLY SAW THE SAME STAIRCASE DICKENS DESCRIBED -- BUT SHE DIDN'T HAVE THE CHOICE TO LEAVE.
Caleb Carr: It's a very grim place. The buildings were actually, probably when they built them, quite attractive. But that doesn't change the air of grimness about it. Like many other mental institutions that have been closed down that I've seen, there's a real sense of the suffering that went on there.
NARRATION: AS A PATIENT, BLY SAW THE MADHOUSE AS A PLACE WHERE INSANITY WAS NOT SO MUCH CURED AS CREATED. "TAKE A PERFECTLY SANE AND HEALTHY WOMAN," SHE WROTE, "SHUT HER UP AND MAKE HER SIT UP STRAIGHT FROM 6 A.M. TO 8 P.M. DO NOT ALLOW HER TO TALK OR MOVE DURING THESE HOURS, GIVE HER NOTHING TO READ, LET HER KNOW NOTHING OF THE WORLD OR ITS DOINGS, AND SEE HOW LONG IT WILL TAKE TO MAKE HER INSANE." MEALTIMES PUNCTUATED THE BOREDOM WITH A SPECIAL KIND OF TERROR. THE INMATES CHOKED DOWN STALE BREAD AND RANCID BUTTER. SOME REFUSED TO SWALLOW THE FOOD AND WERE THREATENED WITH PUNISHMENT. FOR NELLIE BLY THE MOST FRIGHTFUL EXPERIENCE WAS BEING GIVEN A BATH.
Brooke Kroeger: To be taken naked by very unkindly attendants to a big tin tub filled with freezing cold water, to stand there stark naked, have this water poured over your head in some approximation of a washing...that's the image that stays with me the most.
NARRATION: "MY TEETH CHATTERED AND MY LIMBS WERE GOOSE-FLESHED AND BLUE WITH COLD. SUDDENLY I GOT THREE BUCKETS OF WATER OVER MY HEAD -- ICE COLD WATER TOO -- INTO MY EYES, MY EARS, MY NOSE AND MY MOUTH. I THINK I EXPERIENCED THE SENSATION OF A DROWNING PERSON AS THEY DRAGGED ME, GASPING, SHIVERING AND QUAKING, FROM THE TUB. FOR ONCE, I DID LOOK INSANE." BLY WROTE OF LISTENING TO THE SCREAMS OF A YOUNG WOMAN AS THE ATTENDANTS BATHED AND THEN BEAT HER. THE NEXT MORNING THE WOMAN WAS DEAD. THE DOCTORS BLAMED HER DEATH ON CONVULSIONS. BLY BELIEVED THAT SOME OF THE INMATES WEREN'T CRAZY AT ALL -- THEY WERE SIMPLY DESTITUTE IMMIGRANTS UNABLE TO DEFEND THEMSELVES BECAUSE THEY COULDN'T SPEAK ENGLISH.
Caleb Carr: Anybody who can't be made to fit neatly is going to be put away. I mean, they're going to find a way to get rid of that person. That's what's so ground breaking about the work that Nellie Bly did is that it reinforces this notion that, well wait a minute, asylums may not be hospitals. They may be just clearing houses for people that society finds troublesome and that's hugely scandalous.
NARRATION: IN A FEW DAYS, BLY QUIT HER THEATRICS AND BEGGED TO BE RE-EXAMINED. BUT THE MORE SHE TRIED TO ASSURE HER DOCTORS OF HER SANITY, THE MORE THEY DOUBTED IT. ON THE TENTH DAY, PULITZER SENT AN ATTORNEY TO RESCUE HER. "THERE WAS A CERTAIN PAIN IN LEAVING," SHE REMEMBERED. "FOR TEN DAYS I HAD BEEN ONE OF THEM. IT SEEMED INTENSELY SELFISH TO LEAVE
THEM TO THEIR SUFFERING."
Mitch Stephens: This is, this is one of the most amazing aspects of the Nellie Bly story. What a difficult test the editor of the New York World devised for her. I think of all the escapades she went on, this is probably the one that must have taken the most courage.
NARRATION: JUST DAYS AFTER HER RELEASE, BLY'S MADHOUSE EXPOSE, COMPLETE WITH ILLUSTRATIONS, APPEARED IN THE NEW YORK WORLD.
NARRATION: PAPERS ACROSS AMERICA PRINTED THE EXPLOSIVE SERIES. DOCTORS AT THE ASYLUM DENIED BLY'S CHARGES OF CRUELTY, BUT COULDN'T EXPLAIN HOW SHE HAD FOOLED THEM ALL SO EASILY.
Brooke Kroeger: Joseph Pulitzer, of course, loved this and was asked by an old reporter friend of Nellie's what he thought of her feat. And he said, "Obviously this girl is very suited for this profession, and of course I have given her a very large bonus."
NARRATION: THAT YEAR, NEW YORK CITY VOTED A SUBSTANTIAL INCREASE IN FUNDS TO IMPROVE CONDITIONS AT THE ASYLUM. AND BLY PUBLISHED A BOOK BASED ON HER NEWSPAPER STORY. AS FOR THE REPORTERS WHO'D BEEN DUPED BY THE MYSTERIOUS NELLIE BROWN -- THEY HAD NO CHOICE BUT TO RECOGNIZE THE NEW TALENT IN THEIR MIDST. BLY WAS ONLY 23 WHEN SHE PIONEERED A NEW KIND OF UNDERCOVER, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM. They called it stunt reporting.
Brooke Kroeger: It was aimed at boosting circulation, but at the same time it was very much aimed at investigation and doing good and changing society. It involved, you know, Nellie posing as a domestic employee to see how the employment agencies were treating women who came with little education and little possibility to find work. It would have her posing as an unwed mother trying to sell a baby to expose the baby-buying trade in New York. It used a million avenues like this that really were about social reform, which of course, was such an important part of what was happening in the 1880's and 1890s.
NARRATION: STUNT REPORTING SOLD NEWSPAPERS AND PULITZER PUSHED FOR MORE. WEEK AFTER WEEK, BLY FILLED THE PAGES OF THE NEW YORK WORLD WITH CLEVER, ACCURATE, FEARLESS REPORTING. ONE OF HER STUNTS FORCED A CROOKED LOBBYIST TO LEAVE TOWN. HE NEVER DREAMED SHE WAS A REPORTER.
Catherine Robe, Journalist: And she really played up this -- this aura of innocence, naiveté to trap the people who would have never thought that she was what she was. I don't know, they -- people thought that reporters were hard boiled men who drank a lot and swore a lot and smoked a lot of cigars. And Nellie Bly just didn't fit that stereotype.
Narration: BY THE NEW YEAR OF 1888, BLY WAS PERFORMING A STUNT A WEEK. AT TIMES SHE PLAYED THE ROLE OF THE TOWN REFORMER. AT OTHERS, THE TOWN FLIRT. SHE POSED AS A CHORUS GIRL FOR A DAY AND TOLD OF DRESSING IN A CROWDED ROOM, TIGHTS THAT DIDN'T FIT, AND MAKING A FOOL OF HERSELF ON STAGE.
While interviewing the boxer John L. Sullivan, she felt his muscles, asking: "Do you take cold bath showers? How are you rubbed down?" Afterwards, according to Bly, Sullivan told her , "I have given you more than I ever gave any reporter in my life."
Catherine Robe: Always, the main character in any Nellie Bly story is Nellie Bly herself, and she was very much a character.
Brooke Kroeger: She wasn't modest about anything. I mean, this was very much part of the Bly persona. And part of, I think, what made her reading so compelling because you were just astonished at what she was willing to say about herself, including, you know, her sparkling eyes and her fantastic smile and her tiny little wasp-waist. We hear about these things over and over and over again.
Maureen Corrigan: I mean, reporters use what they have and the fact that she was a woman was really a strike against her so if she could turn that around and somehow make the fact of her being a female interviewer an asset in a story, I say more power to her.
NARRATION: IN A VICTORIAN WORLD, NELLIE BLY WAS A HINT OF THINGS TO COME. AS A NEW CENTURY APPROACHED, AMERICAN WOMEN WERE BREAKING THE RULES. THEY RODE BICYCLES, WORE BLOOMERS, SMOKED CIGARETTES -- ENTERED POLITICS. DECADES BEFORE WOMEN HAD THE RIGHT TO VOTE, BLY INTERVIEWED ATTORNEY BELVA LOCKWOOD, THE FIRST WOMAN ALLOWED TO PLEAD A CASE BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT AND THE SECOND TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. LOCKWOOD SAID HER SUPPORTERS WERE NEITHER WORKING SLAVES NOR SOCIETY DOLLS "THINKING WOMEN" SHE CALLED THEM. WHEN BLY INTERVIEWED SUSAN B. ANTHONY, SHE WANTED TO KNOW IF THE FEMINIST LEADER HAD EVER BEEN IN LOVE. "YES," WAS THE ANSWER. "BUT I NEVER FELT I COULD GIVE UP MY LIFE OF FREEDOM TO BECOME A MAN'S HOUSE-KEEPER."
Maureen Corrigan: And what she seems to do is involve her reader in the daringness of asking these questions. So, there was a way that she had, I feel, of hooking the reader into the adventure of the interview that she was conducting.
NARRATION: BY THE FALL OF 1889, BLY WAS WORKING HARDER THAN EVER. BECAUSE NOW SHE WASN'T THE ONLY STUNT GIRL IN THE BUSINESS.
Brooke Kroeger: Joseph Pulitzer had a very specific tactic of always pitting talent against talent. He did this among his managers, and he did this among his best reporters. He would always lay on competition.
Catherine Robe: The World made copies of Nellie Bly. Picked women -- other women journalist, said do exactly this -- do exactly what she does. Write exactly like she does.
Brooke Kroeger: We had young women posing as flower vendors outside the Union Club to see who would come and solicit them among New York's social elite. We would have Viola Roseborough posing as a raggedy beggar to see what it's like to be a beggar for the day. I'm not sure what the social value of that was, but it certainly made for good reading.
Catherine Robe: One of my favorites is -- Meg Merriles feels what it's like to be shot! And there's a picture of her standing against a wall, very bravely, with an early bullet-proof vest on. And she was actually shot and they show a picture of the bullet before and after and. Completely dangerous, ridiculous stunts that really proved nothing. And yet because they were -- they grabbed your attention these women did them and it was a way for them to enter journalism.
Brooke Kroeger: What I think stunt journalism achieved for women because it was effective as a circulation booster for almost a decade, which is pretty long time for a gimmick to stay operative, was the fact that it gave women an opportunity to display that they had the skills of any good reporter -- because you needed all those skills to do this work. Nellie Bly, two and a half years into her tenure on the World was a goddess. She certainly did this better, more sensationally, and to greater effect than anyone else.
AROUND THE WORLD
NARRATION: IN THE FALL OF 1889, THE NEW YORK WORLD LAID A CORNER-STONE FOR A BRAND NEW BUILDING. IT WOULD HAVE A GOLD DOME AND AT TWENTY-SIX STORIES, WOULD BE THE TALLEST OFFICE BUILDING IN THE WORLD. TO CELEBRATE HIS NEW IMAGE, PULITZER WAS SEARCHING FOR A GREAT NEW STUNT. BLY CAME UP WITH A BRILLIANT IDEA, BUT SHE HAD TO CONVINCE PULITZER'S EDITOR TO LET HER DO WHAT NO ONE -- MAN OR WOMAN -- HAD EVER DONE BEFORE.
Muriel Nussbaum: Finally, he comes to her and he says, "Can you leave for around the world the day after tomorrow? The steamship Augusta Victoria is leaving for Southampton England. Can you be ready? And she said, "Yes, I can."
NARRATION: IT WAS THE RIGHT TIME IN HISTORY FOR A RECORD-BREAKING STUNT. JULES VERNE'S AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS HAD APPEARED IN ENGLISH FIFTEEN YEARS BEFORE. A SPECTACULAR DRAMA BASED ON THE NOVEL PLAYED TO SOLD-OUT CROWDS IN NEW YORK CITY AND THE FICTIONAL PHILEAS FOGG WAS NOW AN AMERICAN HERO. BUT NO ONE HAD EVEN TRIED TO BREAK FOGG'S RECORD. MOST AMERICANS SAW THE WORLD THROUGH A POPULAR DEVICE CALLED A STEREOSCOPE. THE BRAVE FEW WHO VENTURED AROUND THE WORLD WERE LUCKY TO MAKE IT IN LESS THAN A YEAR. TO DO IT IN LESS THAN 80 DAYS, BLY WOULD NEED EVERY BREAK SHE COULD GET. ABOVE ALL, SHE WOULD HAVE TO TRAVEL LIGHT. SHE TOOK 200 BRITISH POUNDS SILVER, AND A SMALL AMOUNT OF AMERICAN MONEY -- AS AN EXPERIMENT TO SEE IF OTHER COUNTRIES WOULD ACCEPT IT. SHE BROUGHT ALONG A 24 HOUR WATCH AND, THOUGH SHE HAD NO ROOM TO SPARE, A BULKY JAR OF COLD CREAM. SHE CARRIED MOST OF WHAT SHE TOOK IN A TINY GRIP SACK. DRESSED IN WHAT WOULD BECOME HER SIGNATURE COAT, SHE WAS ABOUT TO EMBARK ON THE "LONGEST JOURNEY KNOWN TO MANKIND" -- IN THE SHORTEST POSSIBLE TIME.
NARRATION: NOVEMBER 14, 1889. NELLIE BLY SAILED FROM NEW JERSEY ON THE STEAMSHIP AUGUSTA VICTORIA --PREPARED TO TRAVEL BY SHIP, TRAIN, CARRIAGE, DONKEY, JRICKSHA, SAMPAN AND CATAMARAN. SHE LEFT WITH OMINOUS THOUGHTS OF KILLER STORMS AND SHIPWRECKS, WONDERING IF SHE'D MAKE IT HOME ALIVE. HER EDITOR ENTERTAINED NO SUCH FEARS: "SHE'LL ADD ANOTHER TO HER LIST OF TRIUMPHS," SAID THE HEADLINES. NELLIE BLY A "VERITABLE FEMININE PHILEAS FOGG." IF THE GOAL WAS SELLING NEWSPAPERS, THIS WAS THE PERFECT STUNT. THE AUGUSTA VICTORIA CROSSED THE ATLANTIC IN 6 DAYS, 21 HOURS.
A CORRESPONDENT FOR THE NEW YORK WORLD MET BLY IN ENGLAND WITH AN IRRESISTIBLE PROPOSAL: IF SHE WERE WILLING TO RISK FALLING BEHIND SCHEDULE, SHE COULD MEET JULES VERNE. A FRANTIC TRAIN RIDE, CARRIAGE RIDE AND CHANNEL CROSSING LATER, BLY WAS SHARING WINE AND BISCUITS WITH JULES VERNE AT HIS HOME IN AMIENS, FRANCE.
Muriel Nussbaum: And then he took her out into the hall where he had a map with Phileas Fogg's route and then on the same map he lined up her route. So she was very excited about that.
NARRATION: FRANCE TO ITALY. NOW SHE HAD TO MAKE EVERY CONNECTION ON TIME, STOPPING TO CABLE HER NEWSPAPER WHENEVER SHE HAD THE CHANCE. DAY 11 --NOVEMBER 25. BLY ARRIVED BY MAIL TRAIN IN BRINDISI, ITALY AND WENT ON A FRENZIED SEARCH FOR THE NEAREST TELEGRAPH OFFICE. "IT WAS IN A BUILDING DOWN A DARK STREET," SHE WROTE. "IT HAD ONE SMALL WINDOW LIKE A SHOP WINDOW IN A POST OFFICE. BUT IT APPEARED TO BE CLOSED." BLY'S ARRIVAL WOKE UP THE AGENT. BEFORE HE SENT HER CABLE, HE HAD A QUESTION: IN WHAT COUNTRY EXACTLY IS THIS PLACE CALLED NEW YORK? BLY'S CABLE WENT FROM BRINDISI TO THE MAIN TERMINAL IN ROME, THEN THROUGH GIANT CABLES STRUNG FOR 2,500 MILES ALONG THE BOTTOM OF THE ATLANTIC OCEAN -- REACHING NEW YORK CITY IN JUST A FEW HOURS. BUT HER DETAILED HAND-WRITTEN REPORT WOULD TRAVEL BY SHIP AND TAKE TWO WEEKS. IN THE MEANTIME, HER EDITOR HAD TO MAKE A LOT OUT OF A LITTLE.
Brooke Kroeger: So The World vamped. They had to keep interest up so they were running geography lessons on the places she was going to visit. They were running reports from other newspapers about what people were saying about fantastic Nellie on the fly.
Catherine Robe: Well, it involved all of the characteristics of a great thing to watch. It had unusual modes of transportation. She talked about eating strange things -- all sorts of things that people who lived in New York would never have the chance to see. It's gotta be big, it's gotta be flashy, and Nellie Bly's trip around the world certainly was.
Muriel Nussbaum: When she went to the ticket office in Hong Kong, to buy her ticket to Japan, that's when she learned about Elizabeth Bisland, who had been sent by Cosmopolitan Magazine to see if she could beat Nellie Bly. And the man behind the ticket office says, "Miss Bly, I'm afraid you are going to be beaten in your trip around the world. So she thinks it over and she says, "No, I'm not racing with anyone. If somebody else thinks she can do it faster than I can, that's her business. I know what I have to do. I promised my editor that I was going to go around the world in 79 days or less. May I please have my ticket to Japan?"
NARRATION: DAY 41. CHRISTMAS. NELLIE WAS HALFWAY AROUND THE WORLD SPENDING THE MORNING AT A LEPER COLONY IN CANTON, CHINA AND HAVING LUNCH AT THE TEMPLE OF THE DEAD. NEW YEARS DAY 1890. ON BOARD THE OCEANIC SAILING FOR JAPAN, BLY ENDURED ANOTHER BRUTAL STORM. SHE COULDN'T AFFORD TO LOSE EVEN A DAY.
Brooke Kroeger: At the point at which it appeared that she might not make it, her first response is, "I would rather go back to New York dead, than not a winner." That's how important it was to her.
NARRATION: DAY 55. 8,000 MILES TO GO. THE OCEANIC SET SAIL ACROSS THE PACIFIC. TWO WEEKS OF DARK SKIES, WIND AND WATER INSPIRE NOTHING BUT WORRY. WHERE IS HER COMPETITOR, ELIZABETH BISLAND? DAY 68. THEOCEANIC DOCKED IN SAN FRANCISCO. HEARING A RUMOR ABOUT A SMALLPOX QUARANTINE ON BOARD SHIP, BLY JUMPED INTO A TUGBOAT WITH HER MONKEY, AND HEADED FOR LAND. TWENTY THOUSAND MILES BEHIND HER -- THREE THOUSAND TO GO.
Muriel Nussbaum: Her trip home was an absolute triumph from the minute she arrived in San Francisco. As she says, "There were crowds, flowers, cheering, The World had chartered a special train to take me as far as Chicago. It consisted of one sleeping coach and one engine. And that trip from San Francisco to Chicago was the fastest on record, 67 hours."
NARRATION: IN CHICAGO, IN THE WHEAT PIT, STOCKBROKERS VOTED NELLIE BLY ONE OF THE BOYS, TO THE SOUND OF THREE CHEERS AND A TIGER! HALLEN AND HART SANG A NEW TUNE "GLOBE TROTTING NELLIE BLY," ELIZABETH BISLAND HAD FALLEN HOPELESSLY BEHIND. IN PITTSBURGH, PANDEMONIUM -- HALF THE PEOPLE IN THE CHEERING CROWD WERE WOMEN. PITTSBURGH TO JERSEY CITY -- 300 MILES TO GO. THE ONLY QUESTION NOW -- WHAT WILL HER FINAL TIME BE? JANUARY 25, 1890. NELLIE BLY ARRIVED IN JERSEY CITY WHERE HER TRIP HAD BEGUN. CANNONS BOOMED, TIMEKEEPERS STOPPED THEIR WATCHES: 72 DAYS, SIX HOURS, ELEVEN MINUTES, AND FOURTEEN SECONDS. SHE'S BEATEN PHILEAS FOGG BY NEARLY A WEEK.
NARRATION: "THE STAGECOACH DAYS ARE ENDED," CROWDED THE NEW YORK WORLD. "THE NEW AGE OF LIGHTNING TRAVEL BEGUN." AROUND THE WORLD, A SLENDER YOUNG WOMAN IN A CHECKERED COAT BECAME A SYMBOL OF AMERICAN PRIDE AND POWER.
Catherine Robe: She was a celebrity at a time when the whole notion of celebrity was beginning to be invented. She was an advertiser's dream because everyone recognized her name and everyone assumed that if her name, Nellie Bly, was connected with something it would sell. Which showed that she was big business.
NARRATION: THEY NAMED A HOTEL AFTER HER -- AND A RACE HORSE AND A TRAIN. AT AGE 25, NELLIE BLY WAS THE MOST FAMOUS WOMAN ON EARTH. HER MOMENT DIDN'T LAST LONG. THE AGE OF LIGHTNING TRAVEL USHERED IN THE AGE OF MOTION PICTURES, HORSELESS CARRIAGES, AND YELLOW JOURNALISM. IN SUCH A WORLD, THE STUNT GIRL CAME TO SEEM MORE QUAINT THAN DARING. SOME OF BLY'S BEST REPORTING LAY AHEAD. IN 1893, SHE INTERVIEWED ONE OF THE MOST CONTROVERSIAL POLITICAL FIGURES IN THE COUNTRY, ANARCHIST EMMA GOLDMAN. WHEN SOCIAL UNREST SEEMED TO BE TEARING THE NATION APART, BLY WENT TO CHICAGO TO COVER THE PULLMAN RAILROAD STRIKE. FEDERAL TROOPS HAD FIRED ON WORKERS AND SHE WAS THE ONLY REPORTER TO TELL THE STORY FROM THE STRIKER'S POINT OF VIEW. NELLIE BLY DIDN'T WANT TO BE A REPORTER FOR THE REST OF HER LIFE, BUT SHE NEVER FOUND ANYTHING ELSE SHE COULD AS WELL. SHE WROTE A NOVEL, WHICH FAILED TO SELL. AT AGE 30, SHE MARRIED A 70 YEAR OLD INDUSTRIALIST NAMED ROBERT SEAMAN, AND FOR A WHILE, ENJOYED LIFE AS A WEALTHY NEW YORK MATRON. AFTER TEN YEARS OF MARRIAGE HER HUSBAND DIED. SHE TOOK OVER HIS IRON CLAD FACTORY, ADVERTISING HERSELF AS "THE ONLY WOMAN IN THE WORLD PERSONALLY MANAGING INDUSTRIES OF SUCH A MAGNITUDE." WHEN THE BUSINESS WENT BANKRUPT, BLY RETURNED TO REPORTING -- USING HER FORUM AS A JOURNALIST TO FIND HOMES FOR ABANDONED CHILDREN.
Brooke Kroeger: I think she was quite prominent but I also think she was seen as more relic than icon. Young reporters no longer saw her as a model, they saw her more as a curiosity. As someone who was kind of left over from another age.
NARRATION: NELLIE BLY DIED OF PNEUMONIA IN 1922. SHE WAS 58 YEARS OLD. "ENERGY RIGHTLY APPLIED CAN ACCOMPLISH ANYTHING" HAD ALWAYS BEEN HER MOTTO. THE GIRL FROM COCHRAN'S MILLS WHO COULD HARDLY SPELL WAS PROCLAIMED, IN THE END, "THE BEST REPORTER IN AMERICA."