Arts and Leisure

The True Story of the Jenny Lind Tower (and a Few Good Tall Tales)

People often wonder how and why the Jenny Lind Tower ended up on the sand dunes of North Truro, Mass. It’s an improbable sight, a medieval stone tower like a rook on a chessboard, rising high above the scrub oak of the Outer Cape. Even odder, it stands next to a radar tower that looks like an upside-down ice cream cone, a feature of the North Truro Air Force Station.

You can’t really get close to the Jenny Lind Tower, as no road or footpath leads to it, but you can see it from the Highland Links golf course.

The Jenny Lind Tower

It’s named after Jenny Lind, the Swedish soprano.  P.T. Barnum brought her to the United States in 1850 for a 15-month concert tour. Lind dreamed of raising enough money for free schools throughout Sweden, so she agreed to the exhausting, but lucrative tour.

Her tour had a lasting impact on both the United States and Sweden. Baby cribs and cottage furniture bear her name, and so do parks, streets and a town in California. She did pay for free schools in her native country. And a couple of legends about her persist on the Outer Cape.

The Jenny Lind Tower Story

Before Jenny Lind arrived in the U.S., Barnum mounted a publicity blitz promoting “the Swedish Nightingale.” Lindmania swept the country. When her ship docked in New York, as many as 40,000 people greeted her on the piers.

Barnum saw to it that people could buy all sorts of Lind merch.  A grocer in Lynn, Mass., sold Jenny Lind sausages. A Boston barroom opened under the name Jenny Lind Hotel.  You could buy Jenny Lind change purses, watches and shoes. A Jenny Lind tea kettle even sang after a few minutes on the stove.

Lindmania reached a fever pitch by the time she reached Boston, where she gave several concerts. The biggest venue was the Fitchburg Railroad Depot, which had a second-floor auditorium.

P.T. Barnum

Barnum, typically, oversold the tickets for the Fitchburg Depot concert. That angered the people who couldn’t get in and they began to riot. So Jenny Lind climbed to the top of the railroad depot’s stone tower and began to sing, calming the crowd.

A railroad lawyer from Boston, Henry M. Aldrich, got swept up in Lindmania and attended that concert. Then in 1925, fire destroyed much of the railroad depot. Two years later, Aldrich paid to have one of the still-standing towers removed to land he owned on Cape Cod.

So goes the story.

The Fitchburg Railroad Depot

The Real Story

But Henry M. Aldrich could not have seen the Jenny Lind concert at the Fitchburg Depot in 1850. He wouldn’t be born until 1867.

Perhaps his father had seen the Swedish Nightingale. The senior Aldrich, like his son, was a lawyer for the Fitchburg Railroad. So Henry M. Aldrich probably had the tower moved to Truro because of his family’s association with the railroad, not with Jenny Lind.

In 1927, Henry Aldrich and his wife May bought property in Truro. They then hired five men to rebuild the Jenny Lind Tower on it. Eventually they built five cottages on their 100-acre property around the tower.

According to the only record of anyone using it, Aldrich and his family climbed it to watch a solar eclipse in 1932.

When Henry Aldrich died, his children sold or donated the property to become part of the Cape Cod National Seashore.

What Really Happened

There really was a riot over Jenny Lind at the Fitchburg depot. An eyewitness, Charles G. Rosenberg, described what happened that night, Oct. 12, 1850, in his book, Jenny Lind in America. He did not, however, witness any singing from any tower.

Jenny Lind

The Fitchburg Depot was on Causeway Street, an unfashionable part of town. People weren’t allowed inside until 8 p.m., but many showed up two hours earlier. By 6:30 p.m., a thousand people surrounded the train depot. Many lost their wallets to the pickpockets who followed Jenny Lind and may have loved her even more than her audience did.

At 7:50 p.m., the crowd burst through the doors and up the narrow stairways. The surging mob tore coats off shoulders, crushed hats and ruined gowns. Some women fainted, wrote Rosenberg.

The auditorium had poor acoustics and poor visibility from many seats. When the orchestra began playing, few could hear it. Meanwhile, the heat rose to an intolerable degree, so people began smashing windows to let in cool air. The tumult then paused briefly when Jenny Lind appeared.

“I caught a few notes, with sufficient distinctness, to see that at the least, one half of her voice had been frightened out of her,” wrote Rosenberg.

During the evening, half of the hall had emptied, and the remaining half crammed to suffocation. What was more singular, he wrote, was that no one left until the end, even though they couldn’t hear or see anything.

Jenny Lind only got angry at Barnum the next day, after her fears had subsided.

Back to Boston

She made a return trip to Boston on the tour. At 31, Jenny Lind came back to secretly marry her 22-year-old piano accompanist, Otto Goldschmidt. Samuel Ward, her banker and brother of Julia Ward Howe, had offered his home in Louisburg Square for the ceremony.

Jenny Lind and Otto Goldschmidt

Goldschmidt was a serious musician, not a boy toy. They’d known each other for six years. He came from a wealthy German Jewish family and had studied under Felix Mendelssohn and Clara Schumann.

On May 29,1852, the couple left for home in Europe. They had three children and lived – it’s true – happily ever after.

Ghosts of the Jenny Lind Tower

But there’s another legend associated with the Jenny Lind Tower. It has to do with Black Sam Bellamy, the pirate who died in a shipwreck off Cape Cod (and whose bones may have been recently discovered). Bellamy had a mistress, Maria Hallett, who gave birth to Bellamy’s baby. The child died and she spent a short time in jail.

According to local lore, she lost her mind or withdrew from society and moved to a shack in Wellfleet. People called her ‘Goody Hallett’ or ‘The Witch of Wellfleet.’ Today her ghost is said to haunt the Outer Cape. At sundown she screams and curses at the passing ships. The ghost of Jenny Lind then climbs the tower to sing and drives away Goody Hallett. Or maybe she sings to calm the rage of Goody Hallett.

Image of Jenny Lind Tower: By Kevin Rutherford, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15579473. Jenny Lind Tower poster By Chemical Engineer – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62154874

 

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