When Jules Verne imagined circling the planet at a blinding speed in his 1873 novel Around the World in Eighty Days, it was a fanciful notion -- much like the plots of his outlandish sci-fi novels.
But the adventure-filled travels of Verne's hero, Phileas Fogg, haven't ceased to captivate readers (the novel) and film fans (the 1956 Technicolor epic starring David Niven).
Now Stage West is set to bring us a new take on that old story. Mark Brown's Around the World in 80 Days is a 2007 comedy based on Verne's novel. It employs a structure similar to the approach taken in the zany hit The 39 Steps by requiring five actors to play 39 characters.
The arrival of this show, which opens Saturday, set us to thinking about around-the-globe jaunts. How does Fogg's fictional finishing time stand up to reality?
Here are a few other circumnavigations of note, just to put Fogg's feat in perspective.
First circumnavigation under sail
A lot of us were taught in school that Magellan was the first person to sail around the world. But that is not the case. One of his ships made it -- he didn't. So the honor goes to Juan Sebastián Elcano, who was the ranking member of what was left of Magellan's flotilla when the Victoria, the only surviving ship among the five that started the voyage, limped into Seville in 1522, ending a trip of 3 years and 26 days.
Magellan only made it as far as the South Pacific island of Mactan in the Philippines, where he was hacked to death by a native tribe he attacked because they refused to accept his demand that they accept a Christian king, Charles I of Spain.
And the trip had been no picnic up to that point. In addition to battling native peoples along the route, Magellan and company had to cope with disease, mutinies, shipwrecks and starvation. Of the 237 crewmen from all over Europe who started the adventure, only 18 were on board when the Victoria docked.
Ironically, Magellan had not intended to sail around the world. He was only interested in finding a viable route to the Spice Islands. But after his death, Elcano apparently determined that the best way to get home was to keep heading west.
Circumnavigation after Verne
One of the most famous and well-documented circumnavigations was the trip made by celebrated American journalist Nellie Bly (real name Elizabeth Cochran) in 1888 -- a stunt directly inspired by Verne's story.
Urban newspapers were highly competitive in the late 19th century, the era when publishing giants such as William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer went to great lengths to woo readers with sensational (and sometimes true) stories.
Bly was a well-known practitioner of what has been called "stunt journalism." Working for Pulitzer's New York paper, The World, she once had herself committed to a mental institution in order to do an exposé about the treatment of the mentally ill, for example.
There is some dispute about who actually had the globe-circling idea (Bly claimed it was her), but it was determined that Bly would attempt to travel around the world and beat the fictional speed record set by Phileas Fogg in Verne's book, still popular 15 years after its publication.
Bly's plan was shocking not only because it seemed so unlikely to succeed (remember that the airplane had not yet been invented), but also because she would be making the trip alone.
The lack of male support seemed to worry everyone except Bly. She left New York on her journey with only a single piece of baggage measuring 16 inches wide and 7 inches high (a stunningly small valise considering all the cloth, silk and whalebone it took to build a Victorian woman on a typical day) and no travel arrangements beyond London.
She suffered terrible seasickness on her first day out but otherwise made the trip with surprisingly little trouble. She was even able to take the time to meet Jules Verne in France, buy jewelry in Sri Lanka, do a little sightseeing in Japan, buy a monkey in Singapore and still make it back to her starting point in 72 days, six hours, 11 minutes and 14 seconds.
Bly's record was soon beaten by another adventurer, George Francis Train, an American transportation tycoon who, appropriately enough, made most of his fortune in railroads. A few months after Bly's trip, he made it in only 67 days. But that did little to tarnish Bly's amazing journey or her reputation as a journalist who could sell papers.
Seven years after the around-the-world stunt, Bly married an elderly millionaire and became president of the Iron Clad Manufacturing Co., a firm that made metal containers such as milk cans. She developed new containers and acquired patents on some of them, including one for a garbage can.
Bly died of pneumonia in 1922 at age 57.
Around the world by air
With the invention of the airplane in the early 20th century, the world became smaller. But it took awhile for the Wright brothers' invention to make it around the entire globe.
In 1924, four Army Air Service planes set out to fly around the world. Two of them succeeded, completing the trip in 175 days. But it was certainly not a nonstop flight. The trip required 57 legs that averaged 483 miles each. And the fliers landed in 21 foreign countries and 25 states during the trek.
The next major circumnavigation by air was in a vehicle that had no wings.
The airship Graf Zeppelin floated around the globe in 21 days and a few hours in 1929.
Wiley Post (1898-1935)
In the years following the military's success, a number of pilots repeated the feat and shaved time off the total.
One of the most famous of these fliers was Wiley Post, who is remembered primarily as the pilot of the aircraft that crashed in Alaska in 1935, killing him and his passenger, legendary humorist Will Rogers.
But Post, who was born in Van Zandt County, was famous before he was infamous. He and a navigator flew around the world in less than nine days in 1931, a feat that earned the pair a ticker-tape parade in New York and a visit to the White House. Two years later, Post became the first pilot to circumnavigate the globe solo.
Steve Fossett (1944-2007)
The late Steve Fossett, a successful American businessman, almost made a hobby of circling the globe. He pulled off the feat numerous times, traveling by yacht, airplane and balloon.
Of course he went by hot air balloon, you might think. That was one of Fogg's major forms of transportation, wasn't it?
The most enduring image from the film version of Verne's novel is of David Niven, as the intrepid Fogg, floating serenely along in a hot air balloon.
But, in the source material, that is one of the few modes of transport eschewed by Fogg. Balloon travel is suggested as an option at one point in the narrative but is quickly dismissed as too dangerous.
But Fossett did indeed go around the world in a balloon in 2002, making him the first person to make a solo, nonstop circumnavigation in any type of craft. The flight, which took 13 days and eight hours, was his seventh attempt.
In 2004, he skippered a yacht with a crew of 13 that sailed around the globe in 58 days and nine hours.
And in 2005, he made the first around-the-world solo flight in an airplane without stopping or refueling in a mere 67 hours.
After all of those death-defying adventures, Fossett died on a relatively ordinary solo flight when his small plane crashed into a California mountain not far from Yosemite National Park in 2007. The wreckage, and some of Fossett's remains, were not found until more than a year later.
Circumnavigation in the Space Age
It is lot easier to get around the world rapidly if the only obstacle to motion is an airless vacuum. In space, around-the-world speed records are measured in minutes, not days.
Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first human to orbit Earth in a spacecraft, delivering a Cold War slap in the face to the U.S. in 1961 by zipping around his home planet in 108 minutes.
But the first American to make an Earth orbit was John Glenn in 1962. Traveling at about 17,000 miles per hour, he made three trips around the globe, averaging about 98 minutes per orbit.
Most humorous trips around the world
At least two great humorists have made around-the-world trips: Mark Twain and Michael Palin.
Twain set out on a worldwide speaking tour in 1895 after a bad investment cast him deeply in debt. The experience produced a nonfiction book, Following the Equator.
But Twain's trip was taken at a leisurely pace. Much more similar to Fogg's dash was the circumnavigation by Monty Python member Michael Palin in 1988.
Palin was challenged by the BBC to beat Fogg's 80 days on his own terms -- meaning no air travel was allowed. The comedian did so, but barely. Following Fogg's route as closely as modern conditions would allow, he completed the journey in 79 days and seven hours. His efforts were documented in a television series and book that showcased Palin's wit and talent for wry observation.
Most famous failed attempt
Amelia Earhart (born 1897, disappeared 1937) was a famous American "aviatrix," the Jazz Age term for a female flier, in the 1920s and '30s. She was especially known for being the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, in 1928, even though she said she was more of a passenger on the flight that included two men. But in 1932, she made the flight alone in 14 hours and 56 minutes.
These feats made her a celebrity, a successful author and a popular spokesperson for flying.
In 1937, she and navigator Fred Noonan set off from Miami on a planned around-the-world flight. But just over a month into the effort, the pair and their plane vanished. The last radio contact was made near tiny Howland Island in the middle of the Pacific.
The mystery of Earhart's disappearance is probably one of the reasons fascination with her has endured. As recently as July, another highly publicized (and expensive) attempt to find evidence of exactly where Earhart went down and how she perished came up empty.