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Saga of the Jenny Lind Figurehead

POssible Jenny Lind Figurehead on SeacoastNH.com/ Karl-Eric Svardskog
STRANGE BUT TRUE

Was this carved statue once the figurehead of a Portsmouth Harbor clipper ship? That’s what Karl-Eric Svardskog believes after nearly two decades of study. But after taking Jenny Lind back to the USA from Norway, this infatuated collector now has to part from his beloved statue forever.

 

 

 

Was She Really on the Clipper Nightingale?

UPDATE: Jenny LInd Sells at Sothebys

What do Eliot, Maine, a Swedish singer, a slave ship and PT Barnum all have in common? More hints? It's made of wood, really old, looks like a lady, and is about to go on the auction block at Southeby’s.

No idea? Don’t pine. History trivia rarely gets more convoluted than the knotty saga of the Jenny Lind figurehead. I first reported this story a decade ago after making contact with Swedish maritime antique dealer Karl-Eric Svardskog. He was in the USA in 1997 drumming up interest in a mysterious figurehead that he claims belonged to a Portsmouth-built clipper ship. Now, after bringing Jenny across the globe, he feels the time his approaching, when the two must part company. But let’s begin at the beginning.

The Phenomenal Jenny Lind

Swedish Nightingale Jenny Lind / SeacoastNH.comThe baby destined to become the most famous female singer of the 19th century first vocalized in Stockholm, Sweden in 1820. Born to an impoverished mother and a deadbeat dad, Jenny the soprano "nightingale" became the toast of Europe in her early 20s. Plain looking and painfully shy, Jenny turned down the marriage proposal of children's author Hans Christian Anderson, who legend says, penned "The Ugly Duckling" in her honor. Jenny toured Europe with composer Felix Mendelssohn. This time she fell in love, but Mendelssohn was married.

Think of Jenny Lind as the Victorian version of the Beatles. A century before Beatlemania, her British tour set off an explosion of popularity called "Jenny Rage." People mobbed her concerts. In 1850, entertainment promoter PT Barnum brought Jenny to the United States. Barnum later formed the famous touring circus that bears his name. Think of Barnum as the Ed Sullivan who introduced Jenny to America in nearly 100 concerts. Jenny was bigger than all of Barnum's acts before her -- bigger than the midget Tom Thumb, more popular than Jumbo the elephant, more curious than Chang and Eng the Siamese Twins and the Feejee Mermaid all rolled into one.

During the Jenny Rage, people named towns, furniture, their schools and their kids after Jenny Lind. Jenny Lind, North Carolina, took her name because, historians there claim, she sang a song beneath a tree nearby. At least four contemporary ships were named in her honor, including the Nightingale, which many believe was the fastest and sleekest clipper ship ever constructed in the Portsmouth Harbor area, perhaps in the world.

CONTINUE Nightingale Figurehead

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