The most spectacular triumph of Barnum's career -- more notable than the European tour with General Tom Thumb-was his mid-century presentation of Jenny Lind. The country had never known anything comparable to the excitement evoked by the tour of the Swedish Nightingale. Fanny Kemble had won the heart of America in the 1830's, Fanny Elssler had swept all before her in the 1840's. Jenny Lind became the idol of millions who would not have anything to do with the stage. New York, Boston, Philadelphia, the South and the West, worshiped at her shrine.
"Not a day passes," wrote a contemporary diarist just before her appearance at Castle Garden, "without some article lauding her talents until Jenny Lind is in every mouth; Jenny Lind hats, Jenny Lind coats, cigars, oysters, etc., in short, everything is Jenny Lind. When she arrived on Sunday from England, thousands of people swarmed the wharf eager to glimpse the 'Divine Creature.' Her carriage to the hotel could hardly make its way through the dense crowds. At night she was serenaded, and by day the Irving House was besieged by men, women and children anxious to peek at her."
The newspapers estimated these crowds milling about her hotel at thirty thousand. They reported a street fight growing out of a struggle to recover a peach-stone which she had supposedly dropped from the balcony; the enterprise of a speculator who had secured what was declared to be one of her gloves, charging twenty-five cents to kiss the outside of it, fifty cents the inside. A competition for a Jenny Lind prize song, won by Bayard Taylor, attracted seven hundred and fifty entries. "New York is conquered," the press agreed, "a hostile army or fleet could not effect a conquest so complete." "The excitement is of the hottest temperature," one paper declared. "It is universally conceded that Jenny Lind is the greatest woman, Barnum is the greatest man . . . in the world." Tickets for the first concert were auctioned off at $225. Boston showed a supercilious scorn for such emotionalism on the part of New York-and was soon paying $625 for the first ticket at its own auction.
It was inspired showmanship. Barnum knew his public and played upon its emotions with a sure touch. America had not seen Jenny Lind (no more had Barnum before she landed in New York), had not heard her, knew nothing of her. He publicized her beauty, her generosity, her goodness, so eloquently that he made her a heroine whom all America could take to its sentimental heart. The popularity of twentieth-century movie stars can hardly be compared with it. Accounts of Lindomania reaching the staid office of the London Times aroused deep contern. If the American people could be so easily swayed by an appeal to their emotions, they would be at the mercy of the first political adventurer who attempted to exploit them.