She was called the Swedish Nightingale and Columbus had never seen anything quite like her.

She was called the Swedish Nightingale and Columbus had never seen anything quite like her.

The foremost musical entertainer in the world in 1850 was Jenny Lind. Having thrilled audiences in Europe with her extraordinarily clear and pure voice, she had decided to come to America.

It should be noted that part of the reason for her coming was a financial inducement legendary for its time. But Jenny Lind had proved she could fill concert halls many times over. So her American sponsor felt confident he would recover his investment.

His name was P. T. Barnum and most of his guesses usually proved to be quite accurate.

Jenny Lind's early years are surrounded in a bit of suitably tantalizing mystery. She was born Johanna Maria Lind in Sweden in 1820. Or maybe it was 1830, if one believes what was listed on her entry forms to the United States in 1850. In any case, her mother ran a day school for girls out of her home and Jenny became known for her singing voice at an early age.

She attracted the attention of the Royal Theater School and by the age of 10 was singing regularly on stage. By the time she was 20, she was a member of the Swedish Royal Academy and was a court singer to the kings of Sweden and Norway. Even with her enormous talent, Jenny Lind remained a very shy person and usually had a bad case of stage fright before each of her appearances.

In 1843, she toured Denmark and made the acquaintance of author Hans Christian Anderson. She later traveled to Germany and became a close friend of composer Felix Mendelssohn. After her appearances in England in 1847 before Queen Victoria, she became known as one of the greatest talents of her time.

This attracted the attention of P. T. Barnum. Barnum was touring Europe in 1849 with the celebrated Gen. Tom Thumb -- a person small in size but not in personality. P. T. Barnum felt that anyone with a voice like Jenny Lind could make him a lot of money. He made an offer to Lind to do an American tour.

Lind was intrigued. She had come from humble beginnings and wanted to use her talent to earn money to give to charitable causes. But she also was a shrewd businesswoman. She asked for $1,000 per concert plus expenses for 150 concerts.

In all, she wanted $187,500 in advance to come to America. In today's dollars, she was asking for more than $3-million in advance from a man who had never met her. Barnum raised the money and Jenny Lind came to America.

Acting in his own self-interest, Barnum promoted Jenny Lind as the greatest single thing to happen to America since the Revolution. Remarkably, people believed him. When Jenny Lind's ship arrived in New York, more than 40,000 people were at the dock to meet her.

At her first concert in New York, Barnum announced that the proceeds of the concert would be given to charity. The crowd was thrilled. As one account at the time put it, "Jenny Lind garments of all kinds were worn, Jenny Lind poetry and incidents crowded the newspapers, and Jenny Lind songs were in everybody's mouth."

As in every other town of any size, many people in Columbus -- population 17,822 -- felt that Jenny Lind should come to their town, too. After initially turning the capital city down, an announcement was made on Nov. 1, 1851:

"Mademoiselle Jenny Lind will have the honor to give a grand concert in the city of Columbus on Tuesday evening, Nov. 4, 1851, assisted by Signor Salvi, Signor E. Berletti, and Mr. Joseph Burke. Conductor: Mr. Otto Goldschmidt."

The site of the concert was Odeon Hall immediately adjacent to and just south of the Neil House Hotel on Capitol Square. The front door of the hall was across the street from the first statehouse -- a two-story brick building at State and High streets. Seats sold for $1, $2 and $4. By today's standards, these seats sold for $25, $50 and $100. The entire hall was sold out, including every bit of standing room.

It was not hard to see why.

Columbus had not exactly been the social center of America in its early years. Founded in 1812, the town had not seen a traveling show until 1827 when Tippo Sultan, the performing elephant, had come to town with his trainer.

Tippo was kept in the backyard of Robert Russell's tavern near the corner of State and High streets. Tippo did not like being chained up and noting a nearby well had flooded the yard, he then emptied four sacks of flour into the resulting pool and made dough. When Robert Russell came down in the morning to check on Tippo, he was the recipient of a large glob of dirty dough.

Over the years after Tippo hurriedly left town, a number of theater troupes, musical groups and performing animal acts and come to town. P.T. Barnum himself had come to town in 1848 and presented a "Gorgeous Funeral Pageant: The Funeral of Napoleon" to a less-than-overflow crowd on a vacant lot where the offices of the law firm of Bricker and Eckler stand today.

Jenny Lind captured the heart of Columbus for the two days she was in town. On the evening of her second concert, more than 1,000 people gathered in the street to listen to at least some of her concert.

If there was any lingering doubt about Jenny Lind, it was dispelled when she was leaving the city. As her final gesture, she gave $1,500 to the newly relocated Capital University.

Jenny Lind earned more than $250,000 from her American tour. She gave much of it away to charitable organizations in Europe and America. P.T. Barnum made about $500,000. He gave little of it away but managed to acquire and lose several fortunes over the years by other means.

On Feb. 5, 1852, Jenny Lind married Otto Goldschmidt, her conductor at the Columbus concert. The couple had three children. Jenny Lind sang for the last time in public in 1870 in Düsseldorf. She died in England in 1887 and left most of her remaining wealth to charity.

Perhaps one way to remember Jenny Lind in central Ohio is to simply note that for two days in 1851, she brought high culture to Columbus. And although it had been here occasionally before, it has been here without fail ever since.

Ed Lentz writes a history column for ThisWeek.

Ed

Lentz