By Ken Zurski
In the movie, The Greatest Showman, the showman in the title, P.T. Barnum, brings a relatively unknown Swedish born singer named Jenny Lind to America. In a dramatic and impressively moving scene, Lind proceeds to captivate an unassuming audience with her soaring voice. Barnum looks on in wonder. A star is born, it seems, even if it is an overtly dramatic depiction.
In reality, Jenny Lind was an opera singer, a soprano, popular in her native Europe, mostly polite and a modest dresser as well. As one article described, she was not the “red lipstick type” portrayed in the movie. Nor did Barnum and Lind have a hint of a romantic relationship as the movie subtly applies.
Regardless of the portrayal in the film, one thing was clear, in 1850, Barnum made Lind an international superstar which reverberated in many ways, including Lind’s indirect role in the US Civil War.
Specifically, two war ships named in her honor.
Why name a ship after the popular singer? That was clearer in 1851 before the war when several clipper chips were named “Jenny Lind” or “The Swedish Nightingale,” a Barnum nickname for Lind during the American Tour.
The sailing vessels were notorious for their carved figureheads adorning the bow of the ship. Instead of a menacing cast, something more refined, like that of a proper lady, was the subject of many figureheads.
Lind fit the bill.
In the Civil War, Lind represented both sides. According to Naval Heritage and Command website, the service of the USS Jenny Lind steamer used by the Union Army reads this way : “In February 1863 reference is made to a steamer of this name being used as a troop transport at New Orleans.”
While the Confederate schooner, also named Jenny Lind is “listed among five captured by USS Lockwood, Acting Volunteer Lt. G. W. Graves commanding, on 16 June 1864 at Mount Pleasant, Hyde County, N.C”.
The Union ship suffered a similar fate as its southern counterpart.
According to records: “The [Lind] steamer was captured by the Confederates at the Passes in the Mississippi in June 1863.”
While the ships themselves are quickly forgotten, Lind’s legacy is not. Thanks to Barnum, Lind made a fortune on the American tour and donated much of it to charities and schools.
Her name adorns many of these endowments.