Fol­low An­nie Lon­don­derry’s tyre tracks around the globe

Pat Kin­sella fol­lows the tyre tracks of a bloomer-wear­ing biker girl who com­pleted a sur­prise cy­cling cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of the world – but was she ped­alling the planet or ped­dling a myth?

History Revealed - - FROM THE EDITOR -

The most ex­tra­or­di­nary jour­ney ever un­der­taken by a woman” The New York World’s de­scrip­tion of An­nie Lon­don­derry’s planet-ped­alling achieve­ment

In 1894, in an ap­par­ent bid to re­solve a bet about the abil­ity of women to match men in feats of phys­i­cal en­durance, a 24-yearold woman set off to make his­tory by cir­cum­nav­i­gat­ing the planet on a bi­cy­cle, car­ry­ing lit­tle more than a change of un­der­wear and a pearl-han­dled re­volver.

The Jules Verne–like ven­ture shocked and out­raged those who held fast to Vic­to­rian val­ues in the sunset years of the 19th cen­tury, not least be­cause Miss An­nie Lon­don­derry – as she called her­self – soon dis­pensed with tra­di­tional women’s cy­cling at­tire (cum­ber­some long skirts) and be­gan bik­ing in bloomers.

Starchy on­look­ers’ eye­brows arched even higher, and de­trac­tors set their ex­pec­ta­tions yet lower, when they dis­cov­ered Miss Lon­don­derry was ac­tu­ally Mrs An­nie Co­hen Kop­chovsky, a mar­ried woman with three young chil­dren.

Lit­tle about this ad­ven­ture was quite as it seemed, how­ever, least of all its main char­ac­ter. An­nie had an in­ter­est­ing ap­proach to the truth, and through­out the course of her ex­tra­or­di­nary es­capade she never let facts stick in the spokes of a good story.

But she did blaze a trail around the world with a bi­cy­cle, and her an­tics en­thralled an in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence at the time, which makes it all the more sur­pris­ing that mem­ory of her mis­sion evap­o­rated from the pub­lic con­scious­ness so quickly, un­til be­ing re­cently rein­vig­o­rated.

LOOPY TIMES

Be­tween steam-pow­ered trans­port, the roll­out of rail­way tracks across the world and the open­ing of the Suez Canal, the globe had sig­nif­i­cantly shrunk by the sec­ond half of the 19th cen­tury, and a swathe of round-the-planet records were set fol­low­ing the 1873 pub­li­ca­tion of Jules Verne’s ad­ven­ture novel Around the World in Eighty Days.

In 1889–90, the very real fe­male jour­nal­ist Nel­lie Bly beat the fic­tional Phileas Fogg by en­cir­cling Earth in 72 days, and such cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tions soon be­came quite com­mon. Ge­orge Fran­cis Train, who’d claimed to be the orig­i­nal Fogg, sub­se­quently whit­tled the roundthe-world record down to 67 and then 60 days.

The bi­cy­cle had only been around in recog­nis­able form since 1817, when Karl Drais launched his ‘ve­loci­pede’ – the first twowheeled ma­chine with a steer­able front wheel. Yet, by De­cem­ber 1886, English­man Thomas Stevens had be­come the first per­son to pedal the planet, hav­ing set off on his large-wheeled Or­di­nary (a penny-farthing) from San Fran­cisco in April 1884.

Bi­cy­cles had be­come sym­bolic free­dom ma­chines for women too, de­spite de­ter­mined ef­forts in some quar­ters to sug­gest bike rid­ing was a phys­i­cally or morally harm­ful ac­tiv­ity for fe­males (ail­ments in­clud­ing ‘bi­cy­cle face’ were in­vented, and there was much frump­ish frown­ing over the pos­si­bil­ity that cy­cling could be sex­u­ally stim­u­lat­ing for women).

“[The bi­cy­cle] has done more to eman­ci­pate women than any­thing else in the world,” suf­fragette Su­san B An­thony fa­mously pro­claimed in 1896. “I stand and re­joice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel.”

And ride by they did, in ever-greater num­bers. Con­tem­po­rary women such as Fanny Bul­lock and El­iz­a­beth Pen­nell were cy­cling large dis­tances by the 1890s. But An­nie her­self had never been on a bike in her life un­til just a few days be­fore she set off to cir­cum­nav­i­gate the world on two wheels, and the ori­gins of her in­volve­ment in this globe-trot­ting gal­li­vant are steeped in mys­tery.

UN­LIKELY SPOKES­WOMAN

An­nie Kop­chovsky was a work­ing mother, a frac­tion over five feet tall, who couldn’t cy­cle. On the sur­face, a less likely can­di­date to con­found stereo­types about the so-called softer sex could scarcely have been found, but An­nie would soon demon­strate rare re­serves of de­ter­mi­na­tion, courage and cun­ning.

Born with the sur­name Co­hen, An­nie was a Jewish Lat­vian im­mi­grant to the US, a proud ‘new woman’ and an ab­so­lute ex­pert at har­ness­ing the sen­sa­tion­al­ist ap­peal of ‘fake news’, well over a cen­tury be­fore the con­cept had been in­vented.

The true tale of how An­nie be­came em­broiled in a globe-round­ing gam­ble has been lost to time. The story, as it was re­ported in the pa­pers, be­gins with two “wealthy club­men of Bos­ton” dis­cussing the an­tics of a chancer call­ing him­self Paul Jones, who’d made head­lines by claim­ing he was walk­ing around the world to win a $5,000 bet. The men went on to wager “$20,000 against $10,000” that no woman could per­form a sim­i­lar feat.

Shortly af­ter­wards, Jones – re­vealed as a Har­vard stu­dent called Pfeif­fer – ad­mit­ted he’d made up his story, but by then the stage was set for An­nie to prove a point for her gen­der. The ec­cen­tric terms of the bet re­quired her not just to cir­cum­nav­i­gate the world by bi­cy­cle within 15 months, but also to earn $5,000 en route, over and above ex­penses, af­ter start­ing with­out even a cent in her sad­dle­bag.

The iden­tity of the two wager-wav­ing pro­tag­o­nists has never been prop­erly ver­i­fied, and it’s pos­si­ble they never re­ally ex­isted. Spec­u­la­tive the­o­ries have An­nie tak­ing on the chal­lenge for the ben­e­fit of her orig­i­nal spon­sor (Colonel Al­bert Pope, owner of Bos­ton’s Pope Man­u­fac­tur­ing Com­pany who made Columbia bi­cy­cles); to make a bold point for fem­i­nism; as a ba­sic busi­ness ven­ture; or sim­ply for the sheer hell of it.

What’s beyond doubt, though, is that An­nie was a mas­ter­ful media ma­nip­u­la­tor. She shame­lessly and con­stantly spruiked con­flict­ing sto­ries about her back­ground and the ad­ven­ture she was un­der­tak­ing, var­i­ously claim­ing to be an or­phan, a wealthy heiress or a qual­i­fied lawyer. All of which whop­pers were dwarfed by tales told about her ex­ploits and ex­pe­ri­ences dur­ing and af­ter the ex­pe­di­tion it­self, which grew taller by the month.

The pa­pers and the pub­lic lapped it up, fall­ing in love with the at­trac­tive young woman. “Any hor­rid man who says she is not good look­ing ought to be taken out back of a cow shed and knocked in the head with an axe,” an El Paso Daily Herald re­porter purred.

And at­ten­tion led to spon­sor­ship, be­gin­ning with a deal seem­ingly hatched right on the start­ing line, when New Hamp­shire’s Lon­don­derry Lithia Spring Wa­ter Com­pany paid $100 in cash to hang an ad­ver­tis­ing plac­ard on An­nie’s bike and adopt the com­pany name as her moniker for the du­ra­tion of the jour­ney.

MAIDEN VOY­AGE

An­nie’s care­fully stage-man­aged grand de­part took place in front of a crowd com­prised of 500 sup­port­ers, suf­fragettes and cu­rios­ity chasers amassed on the steps of Bos­ton’s Mas­sachusetts State House on 25 June 1894. De­spite re­ports of

how she “sailed away like a kite down Bea­con Street” on her Columbia bi­cy­cle, she didn’t ac­tu­ally be­gin the ex­pe­di­tion for an­other two days, af­ter bid­ding her young fam­ily adieu.

Fol­low­ing de­tailed route instructions pub­lished in tour­ing guides and scroung­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion as she went, An­nie cy­cled straight through the Fens to­wards New York, be­fore wob­bling west to Chicago. This was a huge er­ror, and by the time she ar­rived in the Windy City in late Septem­ber, An­nie re­alised it would be im­pos­si­ble to tra­verse the Rocky Moun­tains and reach San Fran­cisco be­fore the fast-ap­proach­ing win­ter dumped im­pass­able snow in her way. A di­ver­sion south would in­volve an ex­tra 1,000 miles or more.

She was star­ing de­feat in the face hav­ing only made it half­way across the US, but be­fore quit­ting, An­nie rekin­dled con­tact with an­other bi­cy­cle man­u­fac­turer, Chicago-based Ster­ling Cy­cle Works, who gifted her an Ex­pert Model E Light Roadster, which was half the weight of the 42lb Columbia.

TAKE TWO

Equipped with a new steed, and hav­ing jet­ti­soned her skirt in favour of bloomers, An­nie felt re­ju­ve­nated. She re­booted the ex­pe­di­tion – but not the clock – from Chicago, re­trac­ing her tyre tracks to New York and board­ing La

bound for France in Novem­ber. Fol­low­ing a less-than-friendly wel­come in Le Havre, where of­fi­cials tem­po­rar­ily con­fis­cated her bike and money, An­nie cy­cled the length of France over the fol­low­ing month, dur­ing which time she was al­legedly at­tacked and robbed by a three-man gang. Local rid­ers were sup­port­ive, how­ever, and she even­tu­ally ar­rived in Mar­seilles (com­plete with a ban­daged foot as a bat­tle wound) to be greeted by a large and en­thu­si­as­tic crowd, which she then pro­ceeded to woo with char­ac­ter­is­tic aplomb.

By now, only eight months re­mained for An­nie to com­plete the rest of the jour­ney back to Chicago. For­tu­nately, the terms of the wager were woolly, and there was ap­par­ently noth­ing to stop her trav­el­ling large sec­tions of the route by boat, hop­ping off here and there to do day rides around port cities.

Ac­cord­ingly, An­nie crossed the Mediter­ranean aboard the steamer Syd­ney, ar­riv­ing in Egypt, where she claims to have done a side trip to Jerusalem. Via the Suez Canal and the Red Sea, she sailed on through the Gulf of Aden, past Ye­men, to Cey­lon (mod­ern-day Sri Lanka) and into South­east Asia.

CHI­NESE WHIS­PERS

In early 1895, while the Sino-Ja­panese War was still in full swing, An­nie spent sev­eral weeks in the re­gion, seem­ingly trav­el­ling through hotly con­tested ar­eas even as fight­ing flared. She claimed to have suf­fered a gun­shot wound here, and wrote about be­ing taken pris­oner and wit­ness­ing a Chi­nese man be­ing bru­tally slaugh­tered by a Ja­panese sol­dier right in front of her eyes. Ac­cord­ing to An­nie’s ac­counts, she met two war cor­re­spon­dents dur­ing this leg, trav­el­ling with them – she on her bike, and they on ponies – along rough roads to Port Arthur (now Lüshunkou), the scene of an in­fa­mous mas­sacre that had taken place shortly be­fore. An­nie sub­se­quently lec­tured and wrote about the conflict, claim­ing to have crossed Korea and ven­tured to Vladi­vos­tok in Rus­sia, but hard ev­i­dence is lack­ing.

HIT AND HOME RUN

Af­ter reach­ing Ja­pan and vis­it­ing Na­gasaki, An­nie sailed from Yoko­hama, reach­ing San Fran­cisco in late March. Strangely, af­ter all her ap­par­ent ex­ploits within a war­zone, it was once she ar­rived back on US soil that her clos­est scrape with death oc­curred, when an outof-con­trol horse and cart crashed into her in Cal­i­for­nia. In her ac­count of events, An­nie was hos­pi­talised for sev­eral days and coughed up lots of blood, but records re­veal her giv­ing a speech in Stock­ton the evening af­ter the ac­ci­dent.

Af­ter rid­ing across Cal­i­for­nia, Ari­zona, Texas, Colorado and Wy­oming, An­nie took a train across Ne­braska, ap­par­ently to avoid ex­ces­sively muddy roads. From Fre­mont she sad­dled up once again, cy­cling into Chicago on 12 Septem­ber 1895 to tri­umphantly claim vic­tory in her quixotic quest.

Re­gard­less of her rub­bery re­la­tion­ship with the truth, and the fact that for a large part of her jour­ney she trav­elled with, rather than on, her bi­cy­cle – ped­alling only a frac­tion of the 13,500 miles cy­cled by Thomas Stevens a decade ear­lier – An­nie’s achieve­ment was huge. What­ever her real ob­jec­tives and mo­ti­va­tions, she’d made a mas­sive state­ment about a woman’s abil­ity to take on the fast-chang­ing world on her own terms and pre­vail.

Thomas Stevens was the first per­son to cy­cle the globe by bike An­nie soon ditched her long skirt for more prac­ti­cal bloomers

Bi­cy­cles rep­re­sented free­dom for many dis­af­fected women Karl Drais in­vented the 've­loci­pede', the first re­ally recog­nis­able ver­sion of the mod­ern bi­cy­cle An­nie's jour­ney be­gan at Mas­sachusetts State House, cheered on by 500 sup­port­ers

This ad­ver­tise­ment for Lon­don­derry Lithia spring wa­ter ap­peared in the Rocky Moun­tain news

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