Nellie Bly traveled around the world in 72 days before airplanes were ever invented, but it took her more than two years to go about 18 miles in the 21st century.
Twenty-six months after a lifelike figure of the legendary journalist and Western Pennsylvania native was unveiled, the Sen. John Heinz History Center joined Pittsburgh International Airport in welcoming Bly’s likeness to the Airside Terminal on Thursday. She joins figures of George Washington and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Franco Harris.
The celebration was fitting: It was Bly’s 158th birthday.
Born Elizabeth Cochran in Armstrong County, she took the pen name “Nellie Bly” after beginning work at the Pittsburgh Dispatch as a teenager; women were not allowed to write under their own names at the time.
She later moved to New York City and went undercover in a women’s asylum, and her resulting stories on mistreatment and horrible conditions there inspired social change — and a new field: investigative journalism.
In November 1889, 16 years after the publication of Jules Verne’s novel, “Around the World in Eighty Days,” Bly stood on the Hoboken, N.J., docks wearing a dress, a coat and a hat, carrying a small bag with toiletries and a bag of money tied around her neck. Seventy-two days later she returned after circumnavigating the globe almost entirely alone, setting a world record.
Bly went on to become the first female war correspondent, as well as a novelist, an inventor and an industrialist.
After the pandemic delayed her move from the history center to the airport, the world’s greatest traveler and a trailblazer for women is home, where she will stand next to the airport’s signature figures of Steelers Hall of Famer Franco Harris and America’s first president, George Washington.
Franco himself, visiting the airport the day before the dedication event, said he was honored to have his likeness among such prominent figures.
“You look at Nellie, look at George, and the impact they’ve had on history,” Harris said. “And to have this guy here, in a sport in the past – part of that, I have to tell you I’m very humbled but very blessed to be able to be a part and share this airport with them.”