Jenny Lind, the 19th-Century Taylor Swift?

February 16th, 2024

By John Marks, Curator

 “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes” – attributed to Mark Twain

Unless you’ve been off the grid for months, you’ve heard quite a bit about Taylor Swift. We’ll continue to, as she takes her concert tour to Asia, Europe, and back to the US this year. For some, it may feel reminiscent of Beatlemania or Elvis. For a historian, it reminds me of Jenny Lind’s American tour from 1850 to 1852.

Johanna Lind (1820-1887), a Swedish soprano, gained fame in Europe as an opera singer. She retired from opera at the age of 29 and focused on concerts.  In 1850 P.T. Barnum signed her to perform in America. Barnum’s flair for promotion whipped Americans into a frenzy before Lind arrived in September 1850. She gave 93 concerts under Barnum’s management, then parted ways with him and continued to tour for almost a year.

Jenny Lind spool bed at Rose HillMerchants were quick to market items connected with Jenny Lind. The most famous was the Jenny Lind bed. The one shown here is at Rose Hill Mansion. Lind was reported to have preferred sleeping in spool beds, already in fashion, while in America. Even today people think of this style as a Jenny Lind bed.

Local businesses inserted “Jenny Lind” into advertisements to catch attention. Morris & Collier’s store did so in the September 1850 Geneva Gazette. The soprano’s life was documented in the Geneva newspaper pages. It included concert reviews, locations and travels, and rumored romances with men in her entourage. Mark Twain would either be comforted or disturbed that human behavior hasn’t changed much.

dry goods ad using jenny linds name 1850The June 25, 1851 Geneva Courier reported, “We have the happiness to announce that arrangements have been made for JENNY LIND to give one of her Concerts in Geneva. Her agent has written to Mr. KINGSLAND, of the Music Store…and all will be delighted to learn that the Presbyterian church has been engaged for this purpose.”

Two days later, the Geneva Gazette wrote, “We are requested by Mr. KINGSLAND to state that the announcement in the Courier of a Concert in Geneva by the Swedish Nightingale, is at least premature, and was not authorized by him, as might be inferred…It is true that her agent, Max Hjortsberg, has made an enquiry of Mr. K. in regard to an eligible building for a concert, and that the offer of the Presbyterian Church has been made for the purpose.”

In 1851 the Presbyterian Church was the largest public space in Geneva. However, the church would only allow Lind to sing religious music, and she declined to appear there. Geneva’s missed opportunity may have influenced John S. King several years later.


A view of Seneca Street including Linden Hall in the mid-1800s.

In 1855 King built a business block on the corner of then-Maiden Lane and Seneca Street. In April the Geneva Daily Gazette mentioned that Maiden Lane was to be widened 15 feet and re-named Linden Street. King planned a large hall on the second floor of the building for public events. The July 20, 1855 Gazette announced that Linden Hall would be dedicated that week and “most appropriately christened in honor of that Queen of song JENNY LIND…”

While Jenny Lind never returned to America to sing in Geneva’s hall named for her, many other famous folks appeared there. You can read about them, Linden Hall, and Linden Street –


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