George and Franco Get a New Friend

Heinz History Center builds new historical figure to turn famed airport duo into trio

By Audra Lewis

Published March 3, 2020

Read Time: 3 mins


A new figure will be joining the dynamic duo of George Washington and Franco Harris at Pittsburgh International Airport.

During the Allegheny County Airport Authority’s annual State of the Airport event on Tuesday, officials announced legendary traveler and journalist Nellie Bly will become the third iconic figure stationed in the terminal, joining the first U.S. president and the Hall of Fame Steelers running back.

If you don’t know Nellie Bly, you should. Her roots in Western Pennsylvania eventually blossomed into a life that forever changed journalism, world travel and the perception of women’s roles in society, said Andy Masich, president and CEO of the Senator John Heinz History Center.

“Pittsburgher Nellie Bly was the world’s greatest traveler who made history as a groundbreaking journalist and staunch advocate for women’s rights,” said Masich. “It’s fitting that we’ll honor her legacy on the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage with a new lifelike figure where millions of travelers can learn her story.”

Elizabeth Cochran began her career in journalism as a teenager writing for the Pittsburgh Dispatch, now the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. At the time, female journalists typically assumed pen names; hers became “Nellie Bly.”

After several years with the Dispatch, Bly moved to New York City, eventually becoming a reporter for the New York World. In 1887, one of her first assignments involved going undercover as a patient at an insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island.

The resulting story, “Ten Days in a Mad-House,” exposed the facility’s poor conditions and mistreatment of patients, spurring radical changes in how the public health system treated mental and behavioral illnesses. Bly’s story is widely considered to be the first piece of investigative journalism in American history, pioneering a new approach to documenting social problems and raising public awareness.

Following the release of her expose, Bly continued to produce investigative stories, bringing attention to other societal issues. However, she was soon to make another lasting mark in a completely different field.

Elizabeth Cochran, known by her pen name Nellie Bly, began her journalism career in Pittsburgh. (Photo courtesy of the Senator John Heinz History Center)

In 1889, Bly left New York on a steamship headed for England, the first leg of a trip around the world she completed in 72 days, setting a world record and gaining international attention. The idea was inspired by Jules Verne’s popular novel, “Around the World in 80 Days,” published in 1873, when Bly was 9 years old.

“That was quite a feat for anyone then,” said Rachel Saul Rearick, Arts and Culture Manager at Pittsburgh International Airport. “It was especially tenacious for a woman in the late 1800s.”

Bly’s travels led to numerous articles and a book, “Around the World in Seventy-Two Days,” published in 1890.

Now, appropriately, Nellie will be back in the airport beside two other icons with Pittsburgh ties. Originally placed 14 years ago as a promotion for the History Center, the odd couple of “George and Franco” has become an enduring emblem of the region and a beloved part of the Pittsburgh International Airport experience.

Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis noted Bly’s addition to the historical lineup was especially symbolic, since March is Women’s History Month and 2020 is the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.

“The history of Western Pennsylvania cannot be told without noting the accomplishments of so many great women,” Cassotis said. “It is important to us that those stories be told, and we’re honored to recognize Nellie Bly’s groundbreaking achievements here at the airport.”

Bly’s figure is expected to be installed in the airport’s Airside Terminal later in March.

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