Title: Ballerina, actress
Birthdate: November 27, 1840
Death Date: November 2, 1923
Plot Location: Section 110, Lot 24

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Like her parents, Jennie started life in New England. She must have grown up with a love of horses as a child, because riding a circus horse was her father’s occupation for years before she was born.

Newspaper advertisements mention him in the circuses he worked for in the late 1830s, and a  document dated 1841 shows William Johnson returning from an overseas trip, listing his occupation as a performer. He appeared in an 1843 circus ad in Baltimore as a “rider of two horses,” then in Philadelphia the next year as a rider of three. At some point his wife and daughter became part of the act.

It’s not certain if that kind of life was theirs on a regular basis, but they had a two-season contract when Jennie was about 8 years old. They joined a circus that toured the northern half of the country in 1848 and 1849. The girl was billed as “the youngest and smallest female equestrian living.” She rode in a group of eight “lady equestrians” that included her mother. Her father was promoted as “Col. W.C. Johnson, a dashing two-horse rider.” Ownership of the circus changed hands after 1849, and the Johnson family’s story went silent for several years. 

Jennie’s name reappeared in 1858 as a solo act with the National Circus in Philadelphia. Here’s where the family put down roots. It wasn’t a traveling company, it was a circus with a long-term lease on the building at 807 Walnut Street, just a stone’s throw from the famous Walnut Street Theatre. Jennie didn’t miss the hassle of always moving from city to city to perform the same routine. Now she stayed in one place and had the opportunity to work on different acts like dancing, acting, and singing. 

In the 1860 census both she and her mother were listed as “equestriennes” but those days were essentially over for both of them. That year Jennie took the new skills she had developed to another theater, the Melodeon, at 421 Callowhill Street. An ad on May 7th announced “the first week of Jennie Johnson, the beautiful danseuse [a female ballet dancer] and eccentric comedienne.”

Changing theaters was a fortunate decision for Jennie. In 1861 the building at 807 Walnut, which had been renovated and reopened as the Continental Theater, burned down, taking the lives of at least six young ballerinas. Four of them were the Gale sisters from England. All of them were interred at Mount Moriah.

Miss Johnson became Mrs. Jennie Stone in 1861 when she married a clerk named Alfred Stone, but she was not a stay-at-home wife. She performed in a drama at the Melodeon and went with the troupe to Boston and New York late in the year. In 1862 the manager of the Melodeon asked her to join them on tour for the summer, playing the major cities as far as St. Louis. 

As “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” it also resulted in the birth of Harry Stone in 1863. But the love of the stage is also a strong attraction, so Jennie signed with a company that played the Canterbury Hall in Washington, D.C. She was billed on various occasions as a vocalist, comedienne, and in a ballet number for several short runs in late 1864 and early 1865. She even acted the part of Aunt Chloe in the play, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

The years fell quiet again until 1869 when Alfred died of tuberculosis in March. Jenny rushed into marriage with Maurice Deshong a month later, but that led to divorce within a few years. (He left her to marry someone else in 1875.) The 1870 census shows her living with him, her son, and parents at 310 North 12th Street. 

Jennie had continued performing as Miss Jennie Johnson until 1870, but as a clue that her second marriage might soon be over, she would be known the rest of her life as Jennie Stone. Unfortunately, there was very little name recognition and fame afforded her at this point in her career.

Meanwhile, the theater that burned down in 1861 was rebuilt in 1865 and burned again in 1867. It reopened as Fox’s American Theatre in 1870 with Jennie in an ensemble ballet, part of a large variety show. She was one of 35 ballerinas to mark the grand opening of the theater when it was renamed the Grand Central Variety Theatre in 1872. 

She played at another venue called Fox’s New American Theatre on Chestnut Street in 1875. Alas, in middle age, her star was growing dim. One of the last times a newspaper documented her performing in public was in 1877. She joined the ballerinas from the Central Theatre for the summer season at the Theatre Comique in Washington, D.C. 

Jennie’s father died in 1872 so her mother took up needle and thread to make a living. She become a costumer, described in the 1880 census as a “theatrical wardrobe maker.” She lived with Jennie at 206 North 12th Street until she died in 1908. City directories list Jennie’s occupation in most of the 1880s as an actress. What occupied her time after that was being a dancing teacher, which is how she described herself in the 1900 and 1910 census.

In 1913 Jennie moved into the Edwin Forrest Home, shown here. He was a famous Shakespearean actor from the Civil War era. His 400-acre estate in the Torresdale section of the city overlooked the Delaware. After his death it became a home for retired members of the acting profession. (Today, the Forrest Theatre in the 1100 block of Walnut Street is named in his honor.) After her death in 1923 she was buried with her parents in this unmarked location in Section 110.

Japanese maple tree in front of a monument at Mount Moriah Cemetery

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