SWEETWATER COUNTY — A 130-year-old board game that commemorates a pioneering journalist is part of this year’s Christmas exhibit at the Sweetwater County Historical Museum in Green River.
In 1873, Jules Verne published “Around the World in 80 Days,” whose fictional protagonist, Englishman Phileas Fogg, wagers 20,000 pounds that he can circle the globe in 80 days. After many setbacks and adventures, Fogg wins the bet, returning to London just in time to collect his winnings. “Around the World in 80 Days” became a best-seller.
Sixteen years later, an intrepid young reporter named Elizabeth Cochran Seaman, better known by her pen name Nellie Bly, convinced her editor at the New York World that she could at least match Fogg’s literary feat. He accepted Bly’s challenge, and she left New York on the steamship Augusta Victoria, bound for Europe, on Nov. 14, 1889, on the first leg of her nearly 25,000-mile journey.
Bly passed through England; France; Italy; Ceylon, which is now Sri Lanka; Singapore; Hong Kong; and Japan. From there she crossed the Pacific on the RMS Oceanic and the United States by train, arriving home on Jan. 25, 1890, beating Fogg’s 80-day trip by just under eight days.
Bly’s journey was a sensation. Board games and other parlor pastimes were hugely popular in the late 19th century, and a Brooklyn company called McLoughlin Brothers wasted no time in creating a board game that re-enacted her trip. Players spun an arrow spinner, which dictated their number of moves along the world board, landing on spaces that moved their journey along or hindered it. The first player to the center won.
A trailblazer in the field of investigative journalism — often going undercover to perform research — Bly worked on a wide range of topics, including brutality in a New York mental institution, government corruption, poverty, and social reform. When she covered the Pullman strike in Chicago in 1894, she was the only journalist to report from the perspective of the strikers. She also profiled many celebrities of the day, including suffragist Susan B. Anthony, champion boxer John L. Sullivan and the activist Emma Goldman.