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Around The World On Two Wheels is the story behind Annie "Londonderry" Kopchovsky, a Jewish housewife and mother who became the first woman to circumnavigate the earth by bicycle. In 1894, 24-year-old Annie Kopchovsky temporarily left her husband and three young children to seek fame and fortune as Annie "Londonderry," a name she took from her first corporate sponsor, the Londonderry Lithia Soring Water Company of New Hampshire. A novice cyclist, she carried only a change of clothes and a pearl handled revolver, which she also had little experience with. Annie used charm, athleticism, perseverance, intelligence and wit to accomplished her goal of fame and fortune.
Uncovering the true story of Annie Londonderry was challenging because Annie told tall tales to almost every newspaper reporter she encountered. Her story was pieced together using hundreds of newspaper accounts from all over the world, the recollections of her only direct descendant, a granddaughter, and through documents Annie collected in a scrapbook. The book is highly entertaining and will especially appeal to anyone interested in history, cycling, Judaism or feminism. Oy Velo urges you to buy multiple copies of the book (it makes an excellent Sabbath gift) and recommend it to your book club, relatives and friends.
Advertisement for Londonderry Spring Water from
the Rocky Mountain News of Denver, Aug. 12, 1895.
The author, Peter Zheutlin, is Annie's great-grand nephew. Zheutlin is an author and journalist, whose work appears regularly in the Boston Globe and Christian Science Monitor. He has also written for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, AARP Magazine, Bicycling and the New England Quarterly. Peter is a cyclist who spent four years, and a small fortune recovering the legacy of his once-famous relative.
To see more about this book, or other books by Peter Zheutlin, click here.
To order the book or audio CD, click here.
Peter Zheutlin is top left. The two women are Meghan Shea and Gillian Klempner, the women making a documentary about Annie "Londonderry" Kopchovsky. The other fellow is Gary Sanderson, 72. A few years ago he crossed the U.S. on the high wheel bike in the photo. The photo was taken on the Boston-NYC ride following Annie's trail.
Oy Velo recently spoke with Peter about his book. The interview is below:
OV: Thank you for speaking with Oy Velo.
PZ: Thank you for having me. Your site is hysterical.
OV: Thanks. First I want to say that I LOVED the book. It was not what I expected at all.
PZ: How so?
OV: I was resigned to the fact that I would be reading a feminist's mileage log. It was more like reality television from 1894.
PZ: Annie was an interesting woman. She pulled off one of the greatest publicity stunts of her era and became the world's first female sports star.
OV: How long did it take you to realize that she was a bit of a bullshitter?
PZ: A while. When it started to become clear that her timeline wasn't adding up, I realized that laying claim to being the first woman to cycle around the world was secondary to her pursuit of fame and fortune. She's a bit like Trish Cohen in that regard, if you know what I mean.
OV: Not exactly. Annie didn't mind what people said about her as long as they were talking. I prefer a steady stream of admiration and compliments.
PZ: You know, Annie's maiden name was Cohen, maybe you should hire a genealogist.
OV: I would love to, though in the spirit of Annie, I think I'll just start telling people we're related.
PZ: Or you could do that. As you were saying, Annie really was a marketing genius. It was a time when people were interested in bicycles, world travel and geography, and feminism. Annie combined all of them into one grand adventure that was sure to capture public attention.
OV: It's crazy that she took off on a cycling trip without knowing how to ride a bike. I guess she figured, "it's like riding a bike."
PZ: At the time, cycling was very new and there were a lot of schools that offered lessons. Annie signed up for a couple lessons, then she was off on a 42 pound fixed gear bike.
OV: Wow, I thought my starter bike was bad.
PZ: She upgraded from her Columbia wheel, as bikes were called in those days, to a men's 21 pound Sterling wheel.
OV: Right, she had to ditch her long skirts and ride in bloomers to ride that men's bike.
PZ: Yes, Annie was a real gender bending experience. By the end of the trip she was wearing men's biking clothes, which was unheard of for a woman.
OV: Right, though Annie's focus wasn't on proving that women could do anything a man could do, so much as she was focused on proving that Annie Londonderry could do anything a man could do.
PZ: That's true. She wasn't an active feminist, it was individualism that drove her.
OV: I thought it was an equal share of chutzpah and mishegoss.
PV: That too. You know she earned money by renting out part of her body and bike to advertisers. You could rent space for your ad on her back for $400, on her sleeve for $100 and so forth. She became a mobile billboard and pioneered sports related marketing for women.
OV: One of the things that was really interesting to me about your book was the medical debate on whether cycling was beneficial or detrimental to women.
PZ: Yes, there was actually a concern in 1894 that women were too frail to exert themselves by riding a bike. This was especially ironic since many women were working over 10 hours a day in harsh factory conditions.
OV: True! My favorite theory for banning bicycles for female riders was the moral concern that cycling would be sexually stimulating for women. In my opinion, that's really the only way to improve the sport.
PZ: You looked pretty happy with your Segal bike in that photo on your webpage. The bike looked really happy too.
OV: Wow, I walked into that one. Moving on, I don't want to give anything away, but the epilogue in your book was great. You tracked down Annie's granddaughter and found out what happened during the rest of Annie's life, after the bicycle trip ended. You also delved into how the ride affected her children, the eldest especially, who was only five when her mother left town on her wheel. I'll stop now and let people read the book themselves.
PZ: I was deeply immersed in Annie's story for several years. When Mary, Annie's only grandchild, called me in response to a letter I wrote her after having spent seven months searching for a direct descendant of Annie's, I got goose bumps. Mary and I hit it off right away. She was thrilled that I had found her and her grandmother's story, about which she knew quite a bit.
Annie's first bike
OV: Ready for the 6 Questions with Oy Velo?
PZ: Yes, but before we begin, I want to tell you again how much I love your site.
OV: Sucking up won't help you, you're already 0 for 6.
OV: You decided to be a funny guy and sent me an email where you gave me the answers to the six questions before I even asked them. Here's your email:
Hi Trish. To see if you are worthy of interviewing me, here are six answers for you. You come up with the questions.
1. Mo Berg
2. Hebrew National
3. Lewis Black
4. Irving R. Feldman
5. Circumspect, Circumnavigate, and Circumcision
6. My mother
OV: Let's go over the questions I came up with and see how well your answers worked out for you.
1) Who is a better baseball player, Mo Berg or Hank Greenberg?
PZ: Mo Berg
OV: Sorry. Mo Berg was probably smarter, but Hank Greenberg was the better ballplayer.
2) Which is the inferior hotdog, Hebrew National or Oscar Meyer?
PZ: Hebrew National
OV: Wrong again.
PZ: You're rigging the questions. It was supposed to be "which is the better hot dog."
OV: Tough. You told me to make up the questions.
3) Who is the better Daily Show personality, Jon Stewart or Lewis Black?
PZ: Lewis Black
OV: No, Lewis Black is great, but no one trumps Jon Stewart.
PZ: Stephen Colbert.
OV: It's close, but he's Catholic, so he doesn't count in this competition.
4) Who is the better Jewish poet, Irving Feldman or Bob Dylan?
PZ: Irving R. Feldman
OV: The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind, and it is Bob Dylan.
You are 0 for 2 (This answer is subject to change once Oy Velo actually reads some of Irving Feldman's work)
PZ: I said Irving R. Feldman, not Irving Feldman. Irving R. Feldman is the fictional delicatessen owner in the film "A Thousand Clowns" with Jason Robards. Actually, he doesn't even appear in the film, he's only mentioned by name. Who the hell is Irving Feldman?
OV: According to Wikipedia, he's a poet and a professor. You still don't get credit.
5) What three C words am I thinking of?
PZ: Circumspect, Circumnavigate, and Circumcisions.
OV: Close, but it was Circumference, Circumstance, and Circumlocution.
6) Who gave birth to you?
PZ: My mother.
OV: Sorry, the answer Oy Velo was looking for was "yo mama."
Wow, an unprecedented 0 out of 6 Stars of David. Your great-grand aunt Annie would be ashamed of you. Out of fairness, Oy Velo will give you another shot, but this time you have to wait until the questions are actually asked so that you fare a little better. Are you ready for the Six Questions with Oy Velo. . .again?
PZ: Sure. This is going to be like taking the SAT's again.
OV: If it's SAT's you're looking for, I'll give you your analogy question first.
1) Moe Greene is to Bugsy Siegel as Hyman Roth is to _________.
PZ: Meyer Lansky
OV: Correct. Wow, you didn't even hesitate on that one.
PZ: I wrote my honor's thesis on famous Jewish mobsters.
OV: Oy Velo would like a copy of that.
PZ: Sorry, no longer in existence.
2) Better potato creation, latkes or knishes?
PZ: Oooh, the subjective questions are tough. Latkes.
OV: What toppings?
PZ: Applesauce and sour cream.
Ov: Smooth or chunky applesauce?
OV: Okay, you're up to two Stars of David.
3) For this question, pretend you're Annie "Londonderry" Kopchovsky, and tell me who is the hotter Jew, Jake Gyllenhaal or Adrian Brody?
PZ: If I were Annie I guess I'd have to go with the first one.
OV: Correct, Jake Gyllenhaal.
4) Are Marshmallows Kosher?
OV: Half credit. They're Kosher, if made with fish based gelatin.
PZ: I eat that stuff out of the can.
OV: Sure you do.
5) Better Jewish song, "Hava Nagila" or Adam Sandler's "The Chanukah Song"
PZ: The Chanukah Song.
OV: Sorry, trick question. The answer is "The Chanukah Song," but you have to sing it in a chair propped up by four of your uncles.
OV: I'll give you half credit, you have to think outside the box.
PZ: What box?
6) What's the traditional Jewish meal served on Christmas?
PZ: Chinese food.
OV: Wow, big improvement. If I were nice, you would have a perfect score, but the half credits are going to stand. You got 5 out of 6 Stars of David. Mazel Tov!