We left Elizabeth Cochrane standing in front of the New York World building, preparing to storm the male citadels of journalism. The first obstacle to overcome was the elevator operator. One of her stated mottoes being, "energy rightly applied and directed will accomplish anything," she told the man she had an important story idea and was willing to go off to another paper with it. That got her in to see managing editor Colonel Cockerill and she threw some ideas at him. After giving the matter some thought he asked, "Do you think you can work your way into an insane asylum?" Her reply? "I can try." Then, "How will you get me out?" "I don't know," was the honest if disconcerting answer, "only get in."

"I had never been near an insane person in my life, and I had not the faintest idea of what they were like. How then could I hope to personate one, and to convince learned physicians who make insanity a specialty, and who daily come in contact with lunatics, that I was insane?" 'Just Do It', might have been another of her mottoes. For hours through the night she practiced a wide-eyed, mindless stare in front of a mirror. In the morning, after one last bath, she put on old clothes and set out. Elizabeth vanished and Nelly was born. Finding a drab rooming house for women on the lower east side she took a thirty-cent-a-night room. She went without sleep for the second night in row. Rambling on semi-coherently whenever she was with others, she soon found herself being led off to the local precinct house. When her turn came to go before a judge she told him her name was Nelly Brown, or Moreno. He asked if she were from Cuba and she only replied mysteriously, "how did you know?" She met with a doctor, who gave her physical and pronounced her insane. She wrote afterwards, "I felt happier now and quite proud of myself." Two more doctors came to see her. They told her to stretch out her arm, then move her fingers, and open and shut her eyes. "I followed their orders as any rational person would do, and they both pronounced me incurably insane!"

We won't go into the sordid details of her confinement at the Blackwell's Island Insane Asylum; no sense in depressing you at the beginning of your weekend. The treatment of the women there was Dickensian - humiliating, wretchedly unsanitary and dehumanizing. "I had looked forward so eagerly to leaving the place," she wrote afterwards, when the Colonel at last had her released, "and yet when the time came when I knew God's sunlight would be free to me again, there was a pain in leaving. For ten days I had been one of them. Their sorrows were mine, mine were theirs, and it seemed intensely selfish to accept freedom while they were in bondage." She wrote her exposé, Among the Mad. It had the desired sensational effect and led to reforms, as would future stories. When she retired Elizabeth Cochrane, a.k.a. Nelly Bly, had been around the world in 72 days and through Hell in ten.

For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor

© 1999 David Minor / Eagles Byte