Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Amazing Nellie Bly - Part Four

What next for this amazing woman...

After a few years of enjoying her celebrity Nellie went back to doing what she did best, championing the downtrodden.  The United States was experiencing an economic crisis that became the depression of 1893.  Nellie covered the stories where strikers were fighting their companies nationwide.  She got the stories from both sides, but firmly backed the strikers.

In 1895, at the age of 31, Nellie married millionaire manufacturer Robert Seaman, who was 40 years older than she.  The company manufactured containers such as milk cans and boilers.  In 1904 Nellie's husband passed away, and she became the President of the Iron Clad Manufacturing Company.  That same year Nellie took a trip to Europe where she saw glycerin containers made of steel.  "I determined to make steel containers for the American trade."  Within a year Nellie patented her own metal barrel.

After returning to the U.S. Nellie went to work on her new idea.  "My first experiment leaked and the second was defective because the solder gave way, and then I brazed them with the result that the liquid inside was ruined by the brazing metal.  I finally worked out the steel package to perfection, patented the design, put it on the market and taught the American public to use the steel barrel."  Nellie proudly claimed, "I am the only manufacturer in the country who can produce a certain type of steel barrel for which there is an immense demand at present for the transportation of oil, gasoline, and other liquids."  Nellie's 40-gallon barrel was the model for the 55-gallon oil drum still in use today.

Nellie's company experienced huge success employing 1,500 and could produce 1,000 steel barrels daily, but then, because of embezzlement by employees and charges of fraud on their part,  it all ended in a bitterly contested bankruptcy. 

World War I had broken out, and Nellie returned to her roots.  She signed on as a reporter covering the war in Europe.  She went to the front lines and was the first female reporter to do so.  In on-the-spot news stories she wrote, "One motionless creature had his cap on his head.  Great black circles were around his sunken eyes.  Black hollows were around his nose and his ears were black.  Near him, completely covered by his coat, was a form.  Occasionally it shivered convulsively.  That was all.  Nearest us was another lying on his face.  He never moved.  Perhaps he was dead.  The soldier was in a shed with other cholera victims.  Human creatures they were, lying there in a manner our health authorities would prohibit for hogs or the meanest beasts.  I staggered out into the muddy road.  I would rather look on guns and hear the cutting of the air by a shot that brought kinder death."

While covering the war in Hungary a policeman mistook Nellie for a British spy.  The police ignored her claims that she was an American reporter until a translator arrived.  "I am Dr. Friedman", he announced. "You are English, they say."  "I am Nellie Bly of New York," I answered.  Both hands flew up above his head.  'My God!  Nellie Bly,' he cried excitedly.  "The police had cleared a space around us.  Their mouths were not open but their eyes were.  They were speechless, dumbfounded.  My new friend began to talk rapidly to them.  They listened aghast.  'I have told them every child seven years old in America knows Nellie Bly,' he said aside to me."

Safely back in the United States the year was 1913.  Nellie went straight to work covering the Woman's Suffrage Parade.  Her headline for the parade story was "Suffragists Are Men's Superiors," but she also correctly predicted in the story that it would be 1920 before women would win the vote.

In 1916 Nellie was given a baby boy whose mother requested Nellie look after him and see that he was adopted.   The child, being illegitimate and half Japanese, made him difficult to place.  He spent the next six years in an orphanage run by the Church For All Nations in Manhattan.  The plight of orphaned children became part of her ongoing efforts to improve the social organizations of the day.

In 1922 Nellie Bly, Elizabeth Jane Cochrane Seaman, at the age of 57 was admitted to St. Mark's Hospital in New York City where she died of pneumonia.  The World wrote, "Nellie Bly was THE BEST REPORTER IN AMERICA and that is saying a good deal."  She is buried in a modest grave at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

I will end where I began, in complete awe of this woman and her accomplishments during a time when a woman's place was at home and not even allowed to vote.  Where did she find the courage and unyielding demand to be seen as an equal, a person rather than a woman?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Amazing Nellie Bly - Part Three

"In spite of the assurance that I would be released in a few days, my heart gave a sharp twinge.  Pronounced insane by four expert doctors and shut up behind the unmerciful bolts of a madhouse was an uncomfortable position."  In spite of what she had experienced, or in her case, because of the rush she experienced, Nellie was eager for her next exciting story.

In 1873, Jules Verne published a novel called Around the World in 80 Days.  In his book a fictional hero named Phileas Fogg circled the world on a bet.  No real person had attempted this huge and dangerous feat.  The year was now 1889 and Nellie was bored and seeking adventure, so she proposed that she attempt it as a publicity stunt for the The World.  The paper's business manager told her that it would be better to send a man because he would not need a chaperon or as much luggage.  Incensed, Nellie shot back, "Very well.  Start the man, and I will start the same day for some other newspaper and beat him."  She got the assignment.

At 9:40 a.m. on November 14, 1889, and with two days notice, Nellie now only 25 years old boarded the Augusta Victoria, a steamer of the Hamburg America Line, and began her 24,899 mile journey.  All she brought with her was the dress she was wearing, a sturdy overcoat, several changes of underwear and a small travel bag carrying her toiletry essentials.  She carried most of her money in a bag tied around her neck.

Communications in 1889 were made possible by efficient submarine cable networks and the electric telegraph.  Only short messages could be sent.  Her entire stories of her progress and adventures still had to be mailed which took several weeks.  The World, in order to keep interest up between reports, organized a "Nellie Bly Guessing Match" in which readers were asked to estimate her arrival time to the second, with the Grand Prize being a free trip to Europe and spending money for the trip.  Newspaper sales soared while people in New York and the rest of the country were keeping track of Nellie Bly's whereabouts.

Nellie went through England, France, Brindisi, the Suez Canal, Colombo (Ceylon), the Straits Settlements of Penang and Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan.  While in France Nellie met Jules Verne and his wife.  His wife commented afterwards, "She is trim, energetic, and strong.  I believe, Jules, that she will make your heroes look foolish."  It is said that Jules agreed and laughed.

During her travels using steamships and existing railroad systems, she experienced some setbacks particularly in Asia .  During these stops she visited a leper colony in China and bought a monkey in Singapore.

On the returning trip headed for San Francisco on the White Star Line ship Oceanic she was two days behind the schedule she had set for herself because of rough weather while crossing the Pacific.  The World owner, Joseph Pulitzer, chartered a private train to bring her home, and she arrived back in New Jersey on January 25, 1890, at 3:51 p.m.  Nellie had circled the world in seventy-two days, six hours, eleven minutes and fourteen seconds! 

Nellie Bly was back in New York and a hero.  She had not only set the first record to beat, but the year was 1890, and she did it almost completely unchaperoned.  The overcoat she had worn during the trip became her trademark.  Nellie was now not only a celebrated journalist, but a celebrated adventurer.

What next for this amazing woman?