Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Nellie Bly, War Correspondent

Nelly Bly! Nellie Bly! Bring the broom along,
We'll sweep the kitchen clean, my dear, and have a little song.
"Nellie Bly" by Stephen Foster

Nellie Bly, Correspondent

Pioneer reporter Nellie Bly, unlike her namesake, never stayed in the kitchen. Long after she had spent ten days in an asylum and have traveled around the world in record time, Nellie sent this report back from the Great War's Eastern Front.

[By] Miss Nellie Bly, special correspondent for the Evening Journal, on the firing line at Przemysl, Austria: Przemsyl, Nov. 1 — After the hospital feast all the officers and Prince posed for photographs. Colonel John was very anxious that no journalists should be in the group. The prince then bade us good-bye and disappeared over the hill, followed by two officers. We returned to our wagons. 

Our drivers were roasting potatoes among burning branches. They grabbed the hot potatoes and put them in the pockets of their sheepskin coats. Lieutenant Pichl and Acting Captain Arthur Nichl – the only black-eyed man among the thousands – asked me to stop at the Red Cross hospital. They both belong to the Tyrol and have been stationed here since the beginning of the war. They mounted their really fine horses. and rode along, one on each side of my wagon.

In the valley between us and the Russians is a village — the name I must not tell you. A fierce battle was fought there, and firing is kept on the village constantly. The land is covered with dead soldiers and officers of both armies. Perhaps the living among them. The dead cannot be buried, the living cannot be aided until the rain of hellish fire ceases. 


Dr. Johann Hand, the commander of the second Red Cross section, was delighted to see us. He proudly led me around to see all points of interest.

His "palace," as he called his cave, was just being finished. It was constructed just like all others except that a pane of glass, from a destroyed house, furnished him with one window. He insisted on my having a cup of tea — with rum — and drank a toast to America as I drank one to Austria. Dr. Hand has forty ambulances. They carry four men lying, or two men lying and four sitting, or eight sitting. He has eighty well-fed, good-looking strong horses. Splendid covered shelters have been built for them. Well-made, strong tents warmly lined with straw are provided for all the soldiers, and larger ones, with good-looking bunks, are ready for patients.

Splendid kitchens are under shelter, and small kitchens, which can be carried by a man, set down anywhere and used, are kept for emergencies. The man who made the tea had a broad smile all the while. Finally, when we were inspecting the different places, he touched me on the elbow.


"Please put in the Journal," he said, "that I am Henry Cross. I come from Lemberg. I had a barber shop on Fourth Avenue for many years. I came home to visit friends, and here I am. I want to go back to America. I will be an American citizen and stay there.”

Dr. Hand insisted on having me pose with him for a photograph. Beside us stood his assistant surgeon, his chaplain, George Kiener, of Salsburg, and others of his staff. The doctor held a bottle of medicine. It was iodine, the one remedy here for cholera. 


Between us and the Russians is a distance of 1,500 feet. In the valley between us and the Russians is a village. The name I must not tell you. A fierce battle was fought there, and firing is kept on the village constantly. The land is covered with dead soldiers and officers of both armies. Perhaps the living are among them. They have been there for ten days. The dead cannot be buried, the living cannot be aided until the rain of hellish fire ceases. Meanwhile the air is purified.

There can be no doubt but that at this point the Russian condition must be frightful. Dead and dying of cholera, the Russian soldiers are found along the line of battle or left behind in the trenches, where they are found by the advancing Austrians. Several times at night Russians have returned to the trenches to recover straw, and abandoned arms and knapsacks show with what desperation they seized the remnants of straw.

At one point a river or stream divides the two enemies. In the morning the soldiers of Francis Joseph and the Czar have met on the banks, each in quest of water. They take their water, and even barter with each other for cigarettes. Then they return to their different positions to open deadly fire upon each other.

The day is done. We enter our wagons for our return. I glance sadly at the dark, cold trenches. I say farewell to those I know. And the terrible booming and slaughter keep on ceaselessly.

A 2002 Issue Stamp Worthy of an American Legend

Nellie Bly was born Elizabeth Cochran in Cochran's Mills, Pennsylvania, May 1864. Her adventures came about due to her work for the New York World newspaper. This was the age of "stunt" journalism, and Bly’s first report was to be an exposé of a women’s lunatic asylum. Pretending to be demented, Bly was admitted and experienced the lot of the patients confined on the island. The food was rancid, the nurses brutal, and the asylum hardly fit for humans. The article she wrote was a breakthrough in investigative journalism and led to reform for mental hospitals. Her next adventure was one that brought her worldwide fame. Bly undertook a challenge to make a trip around the world in a time faster than Phileas Fogg’s 80 days. She set out with a special passport signed by the Secretary of State, on 14 November 1889. Her voyage started in seasickness but would end in triumph. In France, she met Jules Verne, who thought she might manage the trip in 79 days but never the 75 she hoped. Having steamed across seas, gone through the Suez Canal, seen Colombo and Aden, visited a Chinese leper colony, and bought a monkey, Bly made it back to New York in a time of 72 days, 6 hours, and 11 minutes.

Many adventures later filled with family and business conflicts and fleeing a warrant, she found herself in Vienna when war broke out. She began sending articles to the Evening Journal. She visited the battlefields, even trying out the trenches, and promoted U.S. aid and involvement to save Austria from the Bolsheviks.

In 1919, she returned to New York, where she successfully sued her mother and brother for return of her house and what remained of the business she had inherited from her husband. She returned to the New York Evening Journal, this time writing an advice column. She also worked to help place orphans into adoptive homes, and adopted a child herself at age 57.

Nellie Bly was still writing for the Journal when she died of heart disease and pneumonia in 1922. In a column published the day after she died, famous reporter Arthur Brisbane called her "the best reporter in America."

Sources:  Various Nellie Bly Websites for the material and Donna G. for the inspiration.


  1. An entertaining and insightful article.

  2. Thanks for this great story. Ah, Joe Pulitzer and the old New York World. He went on to found the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and of course the Pulitzer Prize. And the great days of stunt journalism, no longer with us today of course, whose most famous incident was devised by James Gordon Bennett of the NY Herald, who sent Henry Morton Stanley to Africa in 1871.

  3. Nellie's writing in this article reminds me of Hemingway's style from his time as a war correspondent in Spain. Thanks for posting this piece.

  4. Bly was right about the fear of Communism for Austria-Hungary: the Communist Kun Bela took over Hungary in the Spring of 1919. The USA had entered the war on the wrong side.

  5. American Henry Cross's hometown of Lemberg illustrates the area's ethnic and politicial confusion. Between the wars, it was Lwow in Poland. Then it became Lvov in the USSR. Now it's Lviv in Ukraine.