The Original Amazing Race

In October 1936, three journalists battled to circle the globe first.

Dorothy Kilgallen in the 1930s, when she was a correspondent for the New York Evening Journal and International News --

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.

He is the Maharajah of Jodhpur, Lieut. Col. H. H. Raj Rajeshwar Sarmad-I Rajhai—oh well, he has about 40 such names, but I won’t go on with them, or I’ll have the linotype operators and proofreaders down my neck when I get back.

Bump! bump! splash! We thumped down jarringly in the middle of a rice field. The plane [a Puss Moth] was not damaged, but in a second I thought all my worst fears about Kwangsi province were realized. Appearing like gnomes from the ground, about 600 chattering natives, nearly naked, surrounded the plane. They spoke no English, of course, and could not understand Siamese. We waved our arms, made signs without fingers, played “handies,” and finally made them understand we were lost.

...A typhoon caused a four-day delay in Manila as the inbound China Clipper waited out the storm.

I’m already getting jesting complaints from the 17 men with whom I’ll take off in the China Clipper over spoiling the Eveless Eden they enjoyed on their Western [inbound] voyage.… They also grumbled at having to curtail their smoking-car stories, but they were cheered when they learned I could shoot dice. They asked me to prove it, and I shot a 7 on the first roll. Dice is rated the favorite game aboard the Clippers as they wing across the Pacific.

At Guam we’ll spend the night, and then there are stops at Wake Island, Midway and Honolulu before we make the last long hop for San Francisco and the plane that’s to take me to New York.

We've twisted time completely around our fingers. We took off from Wake Island today, Thursday, flew 1,248 miles and arrived at Midway Island yesterday, Wednesday! [crossing the International Date Line]

SAN FRANCISCO! They call it the Golden City, and it beckons to me right now with all the lure of its gold of ’49, for there waits my dad….

At noon we sighted Mount Tamalpais, the slumbering guardian of the Golden Gate. Then we roared through the Golden Gate itself—low between the great brown headlands, over the fairy span of the Golden Gate Bridge.

I’m back home—and, my, but it seems good!

I came from San Francisco Bay airdrome in a powerful, single-motor Vultee, yellow and red in hue, in lightning speed. We made three stops en route to refuel. The actual flying time was 12 hours and 54 minutes.

I circumnavigated the globe in 24 days, 12 hours and 51 minutes—figuring from the time I left the city room of the New York Evening Journal until I checked back in there yesterday morning.… It’s been a thrill. I’d be a bit of a hypocrite if I assumed it was just a casual trip. It was anything but.

It was a panorama of life in two hemispheres, photographed with a quick avid lens, never to be forgotten. The earth rode under me on a swift wheel for twenty-four days, sliding beneath a Zeppelin over the Atlantic, streaking under the dusty wheels of a fast train through Italy, moving smoothly below the silver belly of a flying boat over the Mediterranean.… It was all the promised “somedays” of an earth-bound dreamer’s wish. It was adventure in a nutshell.

From Girl Around the World by Dorothy Kilgallen, David McKay Co. Philadelphia, King Features, 1936

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