A more improbable scenario would be hard to imagine:    a plain-looking female singer from Sweden crosses the Atlantic to America, and on these shores sings classics in languages that few of her listeners understand.    And although she performs at a time that has neither videos, nor radios, no stereos, nor laser shows, the young lady sets each audience on its ear.

This is the scenario that occurred in the U.S. between 1850 and 1852.    What’s even more remarkable, to accomplish this feat, the artist, Jenny Lind, teamed up with P. T. Barnum, that era’s grandmaster of humbug and hoax.

Oddly enough, before engaging her services, Barnum had never heard “The Swedish Nightingale” sing.    However, he knew of her considerable European reputation.    And on the basis of that alone, he offered her for 150 appearances the unheard-of sum of $1,000 a concert ($40,000 today). Her charm, plus Barnum’s boosterism, were to create a strange ten-month pairing of Beauty and the Boast.

One reason Jenny took the risk was that, although Barnum was indeed fond of the bizarre, he did have a superb knack for managing tours.    Then, too, Jenny was seeking relief from the operatic stage, which had dominated her career.    Finally, as Jenny customarily gave much of her earnings to charities, America represented an untapped source of such funds.

On September 1, 1850, Jenny Lind arrived on a New York City dock bedecked with flowers and flags.    Huge crowds pressed in to see her.    Thousands of blossoms paved her path.    Even before the tour began, merchants stocked their stores with “Official Jenny Lind” merchandise of all sorts.

The first concert was scheduled for Castle Garden, a huge auditorium in Manhattan.

Prior to each performance, an auction was held on behalf of the charity, for wealthy businessmen to bid for the privilege of buying the first ticket. At each stop around the nation people waited in long lines to buy entry, while those too late (or too poor) stood outdoors in all kinds of weather just to see Jenny, or by chance to hear a few notes through a hall’s open windows.

Although Jenny was perplexed by this frantic attention, she patiently underwent the assault, little realizing that Barnum’s agents were telegraphing ahead to every city on the tour, informing local newspapers and hotels of the exact time and place of her arrival.    However, Barnum was also sensitive to Lind’s fatigue and need for privacy:    he often tricked a surging mob into chasing a false figure — most often his own daughter, veiled and garbed just like the songster.

By the late spring of 1851 Lind had tired of the relentless routine.    On June 9, 1851, by common consent the contract between the two was ended, with Lind forfeiting a part of her guarantee.    But by then she had already earned $176,000 ($7 million) and Barnum, $200,000 ($9 million).

This friendly parting did not end Lind’s stay in the U.S.    Rather, she toured farther, giving another 40 concerts on her own.    Although those events lacked the frantic appeal of her earlier ones, they were still well-attended — but at much lower admission prices.

In 1852 Jenny Lind married her accompanist and sailed back to Europe.    She and Barnum long maintained a cordial relationship.    Many years later Barnum traveled to Europe and met Jenny and her grandchildren.    When Jenny Lind died in 1887, two of her most precious possessions were placed in her casket.    One was a fancy shawl given her by Queen Victoria.    The other was a simple quilt crafted in her honor by children in the United States.