Well, as I say at the end of every one of these blog posts, I am hard at work on the next book in my "women of adventure series," THE PANDORA BOX. And an amazing adventure it is turning into. The famous "past lady of adventure" that I am linking up with my new contemporary story is the one and only, Nellie Bly. And even though it's been nearly one hundred years since she made her mark on this world, her footprints are still easy to follow.
Known as our first woman reporter, over here in America, this gal had audacity from a very early age. Not only was she a thinker (an out-of-the-box thinker at a time when such things were looked down upon), she was a brave doer, as well. I admire that in a heroine, especially a true-to-life one. And of all the history that has gone on between her time and ours, I have heard of no one who has attempted to do even half the brave things she did. Much less, succeed at them. The most famous of which was her descent into madness. Why would she do such a thing?
Because she had heard of the deplorable treatment of patients within the walls of what was then known as "insane asylums" -- the most notorious of which was Blackwell's Island, in the East River of New York Ciy -- where it had been rumored it was impossible to return from, even if you were put there by mistake. Which an alarming number of people were, during those days, especially if you were a vagrant with no place to go. Oh, but who would believe such things were really going on, without someone who could actually prove it?
Well, in trade for a position on one of the most prestigious newspapers in New York, Nellie Bly offered to do just that. She intended to get herself committed to that dark place, and have a look at it from the inside out… as long as her employer promised to do whatever it took to get her out, again, after two days. Which he promptly did. What a sensation a story like that would make! Except he had no idea when he made that promise, that it was practically impossible to get anyone out of there, no matter how much influence they had in the city.
Nellie was barely twenty-three years old at the time, and here -- in her own words -- is what she was thinking on the eve of her "departure"…
"I remembered all I had read of the doings of crazy people, how first of all they have staring eyes, and so I opened mine as wide as possible and stared unblinkingly at my own reflection. I assure you the sight was not reassuring, even to myself, especially in the dead of night. I tried to turn the gas[light] up higher in hopes that it would raise my courage.
...when I thought of what was to come, wintery chills ran races up and down my back in very mockery of the perspiration which was slowly but surely taking the curl out of my bangs.
…who could tell but that the strain of playing crazy, and being shut up with a crowd of mad people, might turn my own brain, and I would never get back. But not once did I think of shirking my mission. Calmly, outwardly at least, I went out to my crazy business…"
Well, she barely did get out, and she very nearly went mad waiting for her rescue. Because it was a whopping ten days instead of the agreed upon two (with no word from the outside) before the publishers finally succeeded in appealing to the highest authorities in order to get her released. But because of her daring mission, Blackwell's Island was exposed, laws for the treatment of the insane were changed, and Nellie Bly rocketed to fame. That was only the beginning of her many audacious ideas.
I am nearly finished with my encounter with this lady, and I can honestly say that the many hours I have spent with her on this project have been beyond inspiration. She has whisked me back in time, and got me thinking. More importantly, she got me to believing strongly about some things. I feel very privileged to have "walked with her" for a while. Which is why I thought I should introduce her to to you. Because the amazing thing is, that even after all these years, Nellie Bly still has the capacity for making an impact on people.