Today in History

Today in History: September 11

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Today in History ordinarily presents events that happened at least twenty-five years in the past, but this day is an exception.

view of the Manhattan skyline showing the smoke from the World Trade Center towers
Skyline of Manhattan with Smoke Billowing from the Twin Towers…,
September 11, 2001.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

Within hours of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, Library of Congress staff began to call for and collect a vast array of original materials concerning the attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, and the fate of United Airlines Flight 93 which crashed into the earth at Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Library staff worked in concert with many others to chronicle the events and to collect related material in a wide variety of formats related to 9/11—for example, photographs, comic book illustrations, magazines, posters, and fine art.

This array of materials forms a part of the permanent record of the reactions and responses of everyday people, the heroic resolve of firefighters and rescue workers, and the diverse views of the international community regarding the terrorist attacks. The Library's permanent collections grew to include information on surrounding events such as the ongoing recovery efforts, the need for blood donors, television coverage, the anthrax scare, calls for peace, the bombing of Afghanistan and the relief effort, issues of security, and memorials to the victims.

On September 12, 2001, the American Folklife Center called upon folklorists and ethnographers across the nation "to document the immediate reactions of average Americans." Read the letter (PDF, 35 Kb) sent out to ask folklorists to contribute audiotapes to the Archive of Folk Culture. Listen to an October 22 interview with Heather Coffman of Norman, Oklahoma. More interviews are available in the September 11, 2001, Documentary Project in American Memory.

Jenny Lind

Jenny Lind
Jenny Lind,
Studio of Mathew Brady,
between 1844 and 1860.
America's First Look into the Camera:
Daguerreotypes, 1839-1862

The great event of the evening…was Jenny Lind's appearance and her complete triumph. She has a most exquisite, powerful and really quite peculiar voice, so round, soft and flexible.

Diary of Queen Victoria, April 22, 1846

Swedish soprano Jenny Lind, whose purity of voice and natural singing style earned her the nickname "the Swedish nightingale," made her American debut at the Castle Garden Theatre in New York City on September 11, 1850. The appearance inaugurated a ninety-three-stop American tour which was arranged by showman and entertainment entrepreneur Phineas T. Barnum. The tour came on the heels of a fantastically successful string of appearances in England that gave rise to the term, "Jenny Lind fever."

Jenny Lind was born Johanna Maria Lind on October 6, 1820 in Stockholm, Sweden. She made her debut in the opera Der Freischütz in Stockholm in 1838. Her fame grew in the mid-1840s as she made a series of successful appearances in Germany and Austria. In 1847, she made her first appearance on a London stage when she sang the part of Amalia which was written for her by Guiseppe Verdi, in I Masnadieri. In 1849, Lind determined to stop performing opera on account of her religious convictions. Thenceforth, she made her career as a recitalist and an oratorio singer.

Nearly ninety years after Jenny Lind's tour of the United States, Mrs. Isabell Barnwell still remembered the sensation created by the singer's 1850-51 tour. Of growing up in Hamilton County, Florida during the Civil War period, she recalled:

Music was a delight to all of us…We four sisters used to sing a great deal…We kept up with the music of the times, having quite a stock of sheet music on hand…I have several of those old volumes now, one composed entirely of Jenny Lind's repertoire when she made her long-remembered American appearance.

"Mrs. Isabell Barnwell,"
Jacksonville, Florida,
Rose Shepherd, interviewer,
February 6, 1939.
American Life Histories, 1936-1940

Lind's renditions of popular songs met with great acclaim and helped make her one of the few opera singers to earn a large popular following. Fashionable new polkas and waltzes were choreographed and given her name. The "Jenny Lind Polka," performed by fiddler John Selleck and recorded in 1939 in Camino, California, is a testament to Lind's enduring influence on the popular imagination.

How to Dance
How to Dance, A Complete Ball-room and Party Guide, 1878.
From Western Social Dance,
a Special Presentation included in An American Ballroom Companion, ca. 1490-1920

American Memory is a rich resource for the study of popular entertainment from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

  • Search the collection on nineteenth century, or on dance terms, such as, polka, waltz, quadrille, or cotillion to find a treasure trove of information on dancing, manners, forms of courtship, and social life of the 1830s to 1880s.
  • Search on Jenny Lind or on a year such as 1850 in Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920 to find popular songs from the time of Jenny Lind's American debut.
  • California Gold: Folk Music from the Thirties, 1938-1940 is a collection of folk songs recorded in the 1930s. Many of these songs date back to earlier periods. To find a sampling of popular songs of Jenny Lind's era, search this collection of recordings on terms such as Anglo-American dance, polka, waltz, or the more general term dance.
  • Sample a collection of motion pictures, playscripts, theater playbills and programs dating from the turn of the century. Browse the subject index of the American Variety Stage, 1870-1920 collection which also includes material on the popular illusionist Harry Houdini.