Around the world in 15 months
"Her audacious global dash nearly lost to history..." Also, 7 other things worth your time.
Favor to ask: I've been hearing horror stories recently about very good newsletters having big problems with their emails going to spam, after some technical changes.
So, if you value Understandably, can I ask your help?
Check your spam folder.
If you find any editions of Understandably in spam, select them all and move them to your non-spam inbox.
Optional but very appreciated: Reply to this email. The fact that you reply tells email providers it's less likely to be spam.
Basically, we want to train Google and the other tech giants that Understandably is a legit newsletter that people want to receive.
Annie Londonderry: Cyclist and self-promoter
On a June day more than 125 years ago, a 23-year-old mother of three named Annie Cohen Kopchovsky stood in front of a crowd at the Massachusetts State House to say goodbye.
She was off to settle a bet, she said. And with a pearl-handled revolver among her belongings, “she climbed onto a Columbia bicycle and sailed away like a kite down Beacon Street.”
Her destination: the entire world.
Renaming herself Annie Londonderry as a marketing move (she sold ads on her bike and even her clothes to finance the trip, including one for the “Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company of New Hampshire"), she planned to travel around the globe.
As her great-great-nephew (more on him shortly) wrote in 2006:
A consummate self-promoter, and a skillful creator of her own myth, Annie became a global celebrity, her adventures reported by newspapers from San Francisco to Saigon and Chicago to Shanghai.
Her genius was to seize on the major social phenomenon of her day. The 1890s was the height of a bicycle craze in the US and Europe. The women's movement was in full force, and the bicycle, said Susan B. Anthony, "has done more to emancipate women than anything else in history."
Yet when her trip ended, Annie Londonderry quickly faded into obscurity, her audacious global dash nearly lost to history.
Spoiler alert: She completed the trip, although there's good reason to question whether she did it "on a bicycle" or largely "with a bicycle," while traveling by train and ship.
I’m going to break the Fourth Wall here briefly. I originally read about Annie in a 2019 New York Times retrospective. I made a note and filed it away for some June day when I might want to write about her, pegging it to the anniversary of her departure.
But while putting together the story, I realized that Annie’s aforementioned great-great-nephew—author Peter Zheutlin—had written a nonfiction book about her journey a few years back. (He spent years and years researching it.)
It turns out, he also just released a novel based on her story. When I tracked down him to fill in some details, I realized this was the kind of interview that will be a lot better with an audience.
As a result—and even though we just did the latest edition of the Understandably Live crowd-sourced video interview series on Thursday (nice new name, don’t you think?)—I’ll be interviewing Zheutlin on Monday at 1 pm ET, if readers want to join in.
I’ll remind you in Monday’s newsletter, but if you’d like to reserve a spot, please sign up here.
We’ll also have a few ebook versions of Zheutlin’s latest release, Spin: A Novel Based on a (Mostly) True Story—as I say, a fictionalization of Annie’s journey—to give away.
(He's also written several other books, including the New York Times bestseller Rescue Road: One Man, Thirty Thousand Dogs and a Million Miles on the Lost Hope Highway.)
OK, back inside the Fourth Wall. Despite the ads hanging off her bike, Annie told people throughout the journey that it was actually prompted by a bet with a New England businessman, who would pay her thousands of dollars if she could make the trip in 15 months.
Zheutlin thinks she probably made up that story as a marketing ploy. But when you think about it, it's probably even more remarkable if the businessman didn't exist.
How many people do you know who would be capable of putting their lives on hold today—never mind in the 1890s—to travel for 15 months around the world like that?
We'll have some more details on Monday. (Somebody please remind me: I’m supposed to ask Zheutlin what happened when Annie reached El Paso; apparently there’s a good story.)
But for now, I’m sure you’ll agree the moral of the story is clear: Every successful family needs at least one talented writer.
Of course I’d say that, right? But otherwise, if you learn that you have an ancestor with a strange adventure worth sharing, who will be in charge of telling the tale?
(Have a great weekend. Sign up here if you'd like to be in on Monday's interview.)
In case you missed it
Here’s the video from yesterday’s interview with Dr. Bruce Greyson, author of After: A Doctor Explores What Near-Death Experiences Reveal about Life and Beyond.
7 other things worth your time
The Biden administration will buy 500 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to share with countries around the world, with the option to buy an additional 200 million. … The doses were purchased at a not-for-profit price rather than the $19.50 per dose the U.S. paid in its initial Pfizer contract, according to sources. (Axios)
Amazon is giving its corporate employees greater flexibility to work remotely, the company said Thursday, in a significant U-turn from its earlier return-to-work guidance. In an internal memo sent to employees, Amazon said it expects employees to work in the office three days a week, leaving them the option to work remotely up to two days a week. Leadership teams will determine what days employees will be required to work from the office, the company said. (CNBC)
Australian swimmer Madeline Groves has decided to drop out of the country's upcoming swimming trials for the Tokyo Olympics, citing "misogynistic perverts" who "exploit young women" in a viral post to social media. The 26-year-old athlete, who earned two silver medals at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, initially announced the decision in an Instagram post. (People)
These are the cities with the most dog attacks on US Postal Service letter carriers during 2020. (Spoiler: Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Denver, everywhere else.) (USPS)
This is something I’d never think of, given where I grew up and live, but it solves a real problem: Two students won a $10,000 grant from MIT to build a robot that can go inside grain bins and do jobs that are dangerous and difficult for farmers. “After hearing some farmers talk about how they've lost loved ones or how they themselves have gotten injured, I got really passionate about the project,” said co-creator Zane Zents. (AgWeb)
JBS, the world’s largest meat supplier, confirmed Wednesday that it paid the equivalent of $11 million in ransom to hackers who targeted and temporarily crippled its business. … The company consulted with its own tech workers and external cybersecurity experts, it said, and decided to pay to make sure no data was stolen. (Washington Post)
One hundred thirty-five years after gifting the original Lady Liberty, France is sending a second, smaller Statue of Liberty across the Atlantic just in time for America's July Fourth festivities. The bronze sibling statue, nicknamed the "little sister," has been in France since its completion in 2009. The statue has a lot to look up to in her big sister: Standing at 9 feet and weighing nearly 1,000 pounds, the replica is one-sixteenth the size of the original. (NPR)
Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Public domain. The photo is not actually Annie Cohen Kopchovsky, but it’s the same era. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.