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Saga of the Jenny Lind Figurehead


THE JENNY LIND MYSTERY

Karl-Eric Svardskog & his

The Evidence in the Email

A few years after reporting this story, I got an email from a reader of my website who had seen my article on the Jenny Lind carving. She said her great-grandfather Christian Ingebretsen had been one of the final owners of the clipper Nightingale. The reader had an oil painting of the Nightingale flying the Norwegian flag. She wrote: " The oil painting that I have clearly shows a figurehead that appears to be a woman with blonde hair. It appears very much the same as the photo [of the carving] on the web site with the ship and the Jenny Lind figure superimposed."

I contacted Karl-Eric who happened to be in the United State at the time working on a book about his beloved statue, and told him about the email. When the reader sent photos of the painting, the author, with publisher Peter Randall, rushed expectantly into my office. This, he said, might be proof he had been searching for. We studied the digital picture on the computer screen, staring at a magnified image until our eyes ached. The tiny speck on the bow of the Nightingale painting looked like the figurehead of Jenny Lind. Absolutely!!. But, on closer examination, it also looked, well - like a speck.

Jenny Tours Again

To say the antique dealer became obsessed with his wooden Jenny is no exaggeration. Like a modern day PT Barnum, Karl-Eric Svardskog brought the statue back to America in 2001. He wrote a book, published by the Portsmouth Marine Society and Peter Randall, that chronicles his efforts to prove the Nightingale theory. Svardskog‘s case, although supported only by circumstantial evidence, is strong.

The author did his homework. Studies of documents, tests on the wood and paint of the figurehead, all line up with his theory that the carving may indeed be Jenny Lind from the Piscataqua clipper Nightingale. Revell Carr of the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut is one of many experts impressed by Svardskog's evidence. Carr notes in the new book that only a dozen of Mystic's 70 carved figureheads have been accurately identified.

Early in the summer of 2001 Svardskog unveiled the figurehead during a concert at the Portsmouth Music Hall. The evening featured two winners of a Jenny Lind contest for sopranos -- one American, one Swedish -- another testament to Lind's enduring fame. Ironically, for reasons unknown, the flesh-and-blood Jenny Lind refused to perform in Portsmouth during her 1851 American tour. Despite the snub, Portsmouth presented three Jennies that night in 2001 - two singing like nightingales, one as silent as a block of wood dramatically lit at the back of the stage. It was a memorable sight.

CONTINUE Nightingale Figurehead

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