The New Colossus – What I’ve Learnt

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I’ve learnt so many facts in this novel.

First of all, the main character is Nelly Bly. Nellie Bly (May 5, 1864 – January 27, 1922) was the pen name of American journalist Elizabeth Jane Cochrane.  She was a pioneer in her field, and launched a new kind of investigative journalism. Bly worked for the Pittsburg Dispatch for a while, and then left for New York.

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After months trying to find a job,  she talked her way into the offices of Joseph Pulitzer‘s newspaper, the New York World, and took an undercover assignment for which she agreed to feign insanity to investigate reports of brutality and neglect at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island.  Taken to a courtroom, she pretended to have amnesia. She was then examined by several doctors, who all declared her to be insane. Committed to the asylum, Bly experienced its conditions first hand. The food consisted of gruel broth, spoiled beef, bread that was little more than dried dough, and dirty undrinkable water. The dangerous patients were tied together with ropes. The patients were made to sit for much of each day on hard benches with scant protection from the cold. Waste was all around the eating places. Rats crawled all around the hospital. The bathwater was frigid, and buckets of it were poured over their heads. The nurses were obnoxious and abusive, telling the patients to shut up, and beating them if they did not. Speaking with her fellow patients, Bly was convinced that some were as sane as she was. After ten days, Bly was released from the asylum at The World’s behest. Her report, later published in book form as Ten Days in a Mad-House, caused a sensation and brought her lasting fame.

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In 1888, Bly suggested to her editor at the New York World that she take a trip around the world, attempting to turn the fictional Around the World in Eighty Days into fact for the first time. A year later, at 9:40 a.m. on November 14, 1889, and with two days’ notice she boarded the Augusta Victoria, a steamer of the Hamburg America Line,[14] and began her 24,899-mile journey.

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Nellie worked for the World, which was a newspaper created by Joseph Pulitzer. In 1883, Pulitzer, by now a wealthy man, purchased the New York World from Jay Gould. In 1887, he recruited the famous investigative journalist Nellie Bly.

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We also learn that Joseph Pulitzer was the person who managed to raise the money to buy the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty since the government refused to pay for it. Pulitzer raised over $100,000 in six months- more than enough money to ensure the pedestal’s completion.He proposed to print the name of every individual who donated to the construction of the pedestal, no matter how small the amount. Everyone who donated would see their name printed on the front page of The World.

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Joseph Pulitzer was intent on placing the poem “The New Colossus” on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.

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Emma Lazarus is the poet who wrote the poem and whose death Nellie Bly investigates in the novel. She traveled twice to Europe, first in 1883 and again from 1885 to 1887. She returned to New York City seriously ill after her second trip and died two months later on November 19, 1887, most likely from Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

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Charles DeKay was a friend of Emma Lazarus’, and in the novel he’s suspected of her death.

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The novel mentions the Comstock Act.  The Act made it illegal to use the U.S. Postal Service to send any of the following things:

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The book refers to the Castle Garden where immigrants had to go through when they reached New York. From August 1, 1855 through April 18, 1890, immigrants arriving in the state of New York came through Castle Garden. America’s first official immigrant examining and processing center, Castle Garden welcomed approximately 8 million immigrants – most from Germany, Ireland, England, Scotland, Sweden, Italy, Russia and Denmark. Castle Garden welcomed its last immigrant on April 18, 1890. After the closing of Castle Garden, immigrants were processed at an old barge office in Manhattan until the opening of the Ellis Island Immigration Center on 1 January 1892.

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The novel makes reference to Mrs. Astor’s 400, who were the naumber of families who were fit to be invited to her annual ball. Mrs. Astor was adamant to refuse the nouveau riche.

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Jay Gould is one of the men Nellie visit and seems to help her. He’s called Mephistopheles in New York as he has a reputation for being a ruthless businessman. Jason “Jay” Gould (May 27, 1836 – December 2, 1892) was a leading American railroad developer and speculator. He was long vilified as an archetypal robber baron,whose success at business made him the ninth richest U.S. citizen in history.

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One of the matters Emma Lazarus gets involved with related to A.T Stewart who owned a luxurious department store in New York. The book makes reference to an episode after Mr. Stewart’s death when his body was stolen.  Stewart’s body was stolen and the remains held for ransom. The ransom was paid, and remains were returned, although never verified as his.

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Judge Henry Hilton is one of the men Nellie suspects of wanting Emma Lazarus dead. Hilton inherits the fortune of Mr. Stewart, but he lost the business due to his bad administration.

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There was an incident between Hilton and Joseph Seligman.  Seligman decided to vacation with his family at the Grand Union Hotel in Saratoga, where he had stayed before, and which now belonged to Hilton. Stewart and, after his death, his manager Hilton believed that the cause of the decline was the presence of “Israelites” (that is, Jews) at the hotel; Christians, their theory went, did not wish to stay at a hotel that admitted Jews. Seligman was told he could not stay at the hotel.

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Austin Corbin was a railroad executive who in the book has dealings with Judge Hilton.  He consolidated the rail lines on Long Island bringing them under the profitable umbrella of the Long Island Rail Road. Corbin’s most ambitious plan was the 30 km extension of the rail line from  New York to Montauk where he planned to open a deep water port so that trans-Atlantic passengers could shave a day off their voyages by taking the “mile a minute” trains 100 miles to New York City. However, the plan never materialized as the planned port at Fort Pond Bay in Montauk could not be dredged to handle the seagoing vessels.

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Nellie goes to see Julia Ward Howe, who was with Emma Lazarus when she died. Julia Ward Howe ( May 27, 1819 – October 17, 1910) was a prominent American abolitionist, social activist, poet, and the author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic“.

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Helena Dekay Gilder was married to Richard Gilder. They were editors of a literary magazine. In the book Nellie describes Helena as a beautiful woman.

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Richard Watson Gilder was her husband, and they published a popular literary magazine. In the book Gilder is said to have poisoned Emma Lazarus, and he was her editor.

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One of the authors whose works the magazine published was Mary Hallock Foote. The book hints that Mrs. Foote and Helena Gilder had a lesbian relationship. Mrs. Foote is best known for her illustrated short stories and novels portraying life in the mining communities of the turn-of-the-century American West.

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