Friday, September 23, 2016

“Win or Die for Nellie Bly!” by Shirley Raye Redmond

When I was a teenager, I wanted to be just like reporter Pinkie Cochrane. I took journalism classes. I joined the journalism club. I volunteered to work on the school newspaper, The Kubasaki Typhoon. Pinky Cochrane was 17 when she sold her first newspaper story and so was I –a story about drug prevention programs for The Pacific Stars and Stripes. Later, I went to college to study journalism.

Now some of you are wondering, “Who the heck is Pinky Cochrane?” She was born Elizabeth Jane Cochrane in 1864 in a small mill town in Pennsylvania. Perhaps you know her by her pen name-- Nellie Bly.

After having success writing for her hometown paper, she mustered her courage and moved to New York City –with her mother in tow--where she convinced the New York World editor Joseph Pulitzer to hire her as an investigative reporter.

She allowed herself to be admitted as a patient to Blackwell Island, a notorious insane asylum and stayed there for ten terrifying days. She’d infiltrated scandalous factories and jails, and had even traveled to Mexico to cover that country’s internal political strife—all for the sake of a getting a scoop. The gal had grit!

It was her astounding journey around the world in 1889 that made Nellie the most famous woman on earth in her time. Nellie’s journey was inspired by Jules Verne’s popular novel of the day, AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS. Nellie suggested to her boss that she make the trip in 75 days. He would of course pay for the trip, and she’d send daily telegraphs to keep the world abreast of her progress.

Now Pulitzer knew a good gimmick when he saw one. He’d been toying with the same idea for weeks, but of course, he was planning to send a male reporter. He told Nellie, “A young woman can’t take such a journey all alone. Think of the dangers—thieves, shipwreck, and deadly diseases.” But Nellie knew her readers. They would care more about a plucky woman reporter than a man. And she said she wasn’t afraid. She’d make the journey and remarkably do so with only one carry-on bag!

Thousands of people turned up at the dock on November 14, 1889, the day Nellie’s ship left New York. Her mother kissed her goodbye—a professional timekeeper marked the hour and the minute of the ship’s departure. Nellie crossed the Atlantic to British Isles, crossed the channel to France—where she had a meeting with novelist Jules Verne, who sincerely wished her luck. From there she went on to Italy by train, to Egypt and the Suez Canal to Hong Kong. She was America’s darling by the time she boarded an American steamer in Yokohama, Japan—a ship that would take her back to the USA—to dock in San Francisco. The sailors on board had posted a sign in the engine room that read: “We’ll win or die for Nellie Bly”.

Despite encounters with Chinese bandits and exposure to plagues and pestilence and surly seamen, the most harrowing experience of her entire trip was in New Mexico. Three miles outside of Gallup, Nellie’s train raced at approximately 50 miles per hour across a bridge spanning a deep canyon. The bridge was under repair. The track’s nails were held in place with only jackscrews. The frantic workmen heard the approaching train too late to give sufficient warning. Miraculously, Nellie’s train sailed across the ravine safely—the bridge completely collapsing only moments later.

Like a raging prairie fire, Nellie’s fame was all consuming. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to touch her hand, see her face, or simply get a glimpse of her speeding train. Cowboys shouted and waved their hats as Nellie’s special train sped across the Arizona and New Mexico. Indians lined the tracks, raising their arms in salute as she passed, and Colorado ranchers rode hundreds of miles just to catch a glimpse of her train passing through La Junta.

Ten thousand fans turned out in Topeka, Kansas, when her train stopped there and an even larger throngs in Chicago and Philadelphia. When the train lurched to its final stop on the east coast, the station was crammed with frenzied well-wishers and marching bands. The cannons at Battery and Fort Green boomed out the news of her arrival.

Nellie jumped from the train to the platform. Her nose was sunburned in a most unladlylike fashion. She had a pet monkey on her shoulder. The timekeeper gave the official time as seventy-two days, six hours and eleven minutes.

Nellie had done it!

It was at that point that Nellie Bly became the most famous young woman alive. She received thousands of letters and telegrams from around the world congratulating her on her success. One was from the Jules Verne. It simply read, “Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!”

Her book about her travels went into ten printings. She went on to enjoy one adventure after another, interviewing famous people like Susan B. Anthony, and covering WWI as a foreign war correspondent in Europe. She died in 1922.

So, what do you think? Did Nellie exemplify spunky American spirit?

An award-winning writer and frequent conference speaker,Shirley Raye Redmond is the author of two inspirational historical novels, PRUDENCE PURSUED and AMANDA’S BEAU, as well as two dozen children’s books. Shirley Raye holds an M.A. in literature. She has been married to her husband Bill for forty years. They live in New Mexico and are blessed with two grown children, two adorable grandsons, and one spunky Scottish terrier. Touch bases at or Facebook and


  1. I love stories about Nellie Bly! I discovered her a few years ago when I was doing research for my protagonist who is a war correspondent during WWII. Great post. She was a feisty one!

  2. You know, I've heard the Nellie Bly for years and never knew what she did! Thanks for a great post. I want to be Nellie Bly when I grow up! :-)

  3. Like Patricia, I'd heard the name before but never knew her story. Thanks so much for sharing. I love this lady! I could never do what she did...I applaud her big time.

  4. Thank you for this interesting blog post. Nellie Bly definitely was one spunky lady with American spirit that accomplished so much with her spunk and determination.

  5. I am like Patricia. I've always heard of Kellie By and I knew she was a reporter but I have never known "the full story". She was both plucky and gutsy! Thanks for sharing her amazing story.