The Original Amazing Race
In October 1936, three journalists battled to circle the globe first.
- AirSpaceMag.com, September 01, 2011
You’ve seen television’s The Amazing Race, in which teams race around the world by airplane, truck, bus, boat, and on foot, hoping to come in first. But the concept isn’t new. Some 75 years ago, three newspaper journalists competed to see who could traverse the globe in the shortest amount of time. The three wrote daily installments about their experiences for their respective newspapers, and one of the journalists, Dorothy Kilgallen of the New York Evening Journal and International News, gathered her columns into a book titled Girl Around the World, published in 1936. Here are some excerpts:
...Aboard the Hindenburg:
Nellie Bly [a journalist who circled the world in 1889-90] did the world in 72 days, but she wore a bustle and didn’t have airplanes.
I love calling a young man on the telephone and saying, “Sorry I can’t go to the Harvard-Yale game. I’m on my way to Hong Kong.” I’m getting quite blasé about it already.
We passed over a steamer—it looked for all the world like a rowboat. A westerly wind pushed us along, and we zoomed at a neat 64 miles an hour. But the officers, goaded by three jittery world-girdlers increased the speed. Capt. Max Pruss barked the order: “More speed.” And instantly the baritone of the quartette of motors swelled into a tenor hum.
The shadow of this ship is sliding over the Black Forests [sic] of Germany now, and soon we will be settling down at Frankfurt-am-Main.... I had hoped [the sun] would rise earlier over the English Channel and splash Ireland in the early light of dawn. I wished that because I felt homesick—for a land I had never seen. [She explains that her ancestors came from Ireland.]
They tell me that 250 Nazi Storm Troops will wait at the airport until the Hindenburg heaves into sight at 9 o’clock this morning.
...A late arrival caused missed flights and trains. Kilgallen hopped a flight to Munich, then a train to Brindisi.
The streets of Florence were just a moving mass of parading young Fascisti. As our train rolled in to the platform a whole trainload of young soldiers stood up and cheered. They presented me with a bouquet of deep red carnations. It’s so hard to tell you about the Italian landscape. The skies are so incredibly blue. The sun streams brilliantly athwart the whole colorful picture. And the Italians themselves seem to be the best looking people in the world.
We sighted the isles of Greece at 1:40 p.m., Brindisi time. They are everything Byron and Shelley wrote about them.
Well, it looks as if I'm stuck in Athens overnight. But at least it’s a good place to be.… [W]hile the bed will be welcome, I feel swell and not a bit tired. So far at least, this assignment has been easier than covering murder trials—much prettier.
Breakfast in Europe, luncheon in Africa, and maybe supper in Asia!… Before us lay a romantic pathway—Mediterranean island stepping stones bearing names that conjured up tales of Greek heroes.
Some day I’m coming back and really get to know Athens. Making a mad dash around the world you see just enough of strange and interesting places to want to stay. It’s like ordering a seven-course meal and having the waiter say you can’t have anything but soup.
I spent exactly an hour and a half in the Holy Land, swinging down from Alexandria onto the Asiatic continent at 8:20 a.m. …and was off for Rutbah Wells, which I hope the pilot can find, at 9:50.
Seems Imperial Airways doesn’t go on a time table, but on an eat table, and one can almost hear the announcer bellowing: “The next plane for breakfast leaves at so-and-so…. Due in Rutbah Wells at lunch time!”
The desert wastes are full of wild tribesmen who take potshots at planes. That’s all right, for the pilots fly out of range. The danger is that a sandstorm or a leaking gas line—any one of a dozen things—may force us down in the territory of these wild tribesmen.
The Near East reeks with romance! But nothing on the whole eight days’ dash has surpassed Bagdad in thrills, for not even its modern paved street and Piccadilly atmosphere could efface the aura of glory with which this little girl’s story books have bathed old Bagdad.… Star-studded skies hung low over Bagdad when we landed last night, and from behind the towering minarets there rose a crescent moon.
For the first time on this long trip through many lands, I felt a real foreboding sense of danger. A special guard was posted around the fort, made up of Arab tribesmen furnished by the local sheik. Bearded, unkempt, with long scimitars in their belts, they looked for all the world like they might themselves have been a gang of Ali Babas.
We made Basra in four hours flat and had breakfast. Ripe dates and figs—and coffee. The town is on the Gulf of Persia, and sometimes the Tigris overflows it with mud. That’s what the coffee was made of. The dates and figs were delicious, though.
From Jodhpur, where no less than the Maharaja himself gave this little girl a hand, we flew first to Delhi. We crossed low mountain ranges where, I was informed, leopards and other not-so-gentle members of the cat family thrive.