In late January 1852, the ‘Swedish Nightingale’ Jenny Lind and her much younger German fiancé Otto Goldschmidt walked into the Tremont Row studio of Southworth & Hawes in Boston.
There they posed for their wedding portrait, to be kept under wraps until the event a week or two hence. Southworth & Hawes (1843-63) were society portraitists and the first master photographers in America. They could also keep a secret.
The announcement of the Lind-Goldschmidt marriage on Feb. 5, 1852 shocked Boston and the arts world. Lind, at 31, had achieved international renown as an opera star. Goldschmidt was Lind’s 22-year-old piano accompanist. What was she thinking – and why on earth did they get married in Boston?
Goldschmidt was more than an accompanist. The son of wealthy and well-educated Jewish parents in Hamburg, he both composed and conducted music. Frederic Chopin had introduced him to Lind when he was 16. Goldschmidt had always cared for her well-being – something she needed on her concert tour of America.
P.T. Barnum had persuaded Lind to tour the country from September 1850 to May 1852. He ran a publicity blitz for a year before her first concert, provoking a furor called ‘Lind Mania.’ When her ship docked in New York, as many as 40,000 people greeted her on the piers. Demand for her first concert was so great Barnum auctioned off tickets.
We All Loved Jenny Lind
She gave 93 concerts, for which she earned $350,000. She gave much of it to charity. Barnum earned $500,000. But he wasn’t the only person to commercialize the Swedish soprano. In New Orleans, hucksters sold Jenny Lind handkerchiefs, Jenny Lind coats, Jenny Lind hats and even Jenny Lind sausages.
Emily Dickinson attended a Jenny Lind concert, of which she wrote,
…how bouquets fell in showers, and the roof was rent with applause – how it thundered outside, and inside with the thunder of God and of men – judge ye which was the loudest; how we all loved Jennie Lind.
Lind tired of Barnum’s relentless promotion of her, though they parted amicably in June 1851. She served as her own impresario from then until the end of the tour the following May.
Given the tumult surrounding her concerts and the relentless travel, it’s no wonder she wanted to get married quietly. She and Otto were offered the elegant Beacon Hill home of her banking representative, and they accepted. That banking representative would be Samuel Howe, Julia Ward Howe’s brother, who owned the house at 20 Louisburg Square.
Three months later the couple returned to Europe, where they lived – it’s true – happily ever after.
This story was updated in 2023.