Image of Hall of Famer Kelso with all four hooves off the ground.
Leland Stanford rarely left his San Francisco mansion without a top hat and an ivory-capped, gold-inlaid cane. He built California's Central Pacific Railroad, the eastbound section of the transcontinental railroad. A former California governor, Stanford was a renowned horse breeder and racehorse owner who had one particular obsession. Recognized as the richest man west of the Mississippi, toward the close of Stanford life he laid the foundation for the university that bears his name.
Eadweard Muybridge was an itinerant photographer who captured the magnificent natural wonders of the West. He had a brilliant mind but lived in the shadow of madness. He dressed like a hobo with a beard halfway down his chest. He regularly altered the spelling of his first and last names.
In 1874, in a fit of jealous rage, Muybridge gunned down his wife's lover. A sympathetic jury found him not guilty. His trial became one of America's first media sensations.
They were a late 1800s odd couple. Indeed.
The enigmatic relationship centered on a simple question: did a galloping horse ever lift all four hooves simultaneously off the ground thus becoming, however briefly, airborne? Stanford hired Muybridge to get the answer and settle a purported $25,000 bet in his favor.
In "The Inventor and the Tycoon" (Doubleday) author Edward Ball probes that question which was hotly debated by both horsemen and everyday folks of the 1870s and 1880s. In the process, Ball weaves a rousing, epic tale set in California during the frontier decades. The dual biography is rife with ambition, greed, corruption, celebrity, murder and the technology that launched the age of visual media.
Muybridge's overarching quest was to capture high-speed action on film. His freeze-framed images of galloping horses made photography a medium about time and motion. But because the horse's movement was too fast for the human eye to register, most people didn't believe it. Muybridge's astonishing photographs settled the debate. In a series of images displayed in a grid, Stanford's mare Sallie Gardner is captured at split-second intervals, aloft and elastic.
Bell begins the book with the story of Stanford who started out as a grocer during the Gold Rush and rose to fame and riches as a ruthless railroad tycoon whose company was fueled by government subsidies and scores of bribes.
With the astounding wealth Stanford accumulated, he maintained enormous vineyards and a large horse ranch near Palo Alto. He constructed a 50-room mansion in San Francisco and on trips to Europe he snatched up every rare artifact he could. "No one has seen this kind of money before," Bell writes.
"Leland and [his wife] Jenny found it a full-time occupation just trying to spend it."
When Stanford first hired Muybridge, the photographer already was renowned for his landscape photography, particularly his spectacular pictures of Yosemite Valley. But Muybridge had an entirely different reputation in 1874 - that of a cold-blooded killer.
Bell places the revenge killing at the dramatic center of the book. In San Francisco, Muybridge married a girl half his age. She began an affair with a womanizer named Harry Larkyns; when Muybridge discovered the affair, he grabbed a revolver and shot him point-blank in a miner's lodge. Stanford paid for Muybridge's legal defense. The jury (all male, 11 married) let him go on a verdict of "justifiable homicide," or killing without bad intent.
"In California," Ball writes, "Muybridge's social capital went up, not down, after the trial."
Muybridge returned to his attempts at capturing high-speed action on film. On June 19, 1878, he finally succeeded in capturing Stanford's mare Sallie Gardner "running at speed" on Stanford's personal racetrack in Palo Alto, California. He rigged the racetrack with 12 strings and the galloping horse broke the strings one by one as it went through them. The strings were attached to a series of twelve cameras.
The press was invited to witness the event so there would be no doubt in people's minds that the pictures were authentic. Titled "The Horse In Motion," Muybridge was able to produce a motion picture of galloping horse by quickly running the twelve photos in sequence. In doing so, he had actually laid the foundation of modern videography. The resulting images could be viewed through Muybridge's self-invented Zoopraxiscope machine, a forerunner to the motion-picture projector.
REPRODUCTION OF MUYBRIDGE'S HORSES IN MOTION IMAGES
Bell reveals that in the end Muybridge was betrayed by his patron (who only paid his expenses) and later Stanford published a book mentioning Muybridge's research but without giving him full credit. In the end, Muybridge found himself lecturing with his Zoopraxiscope to mostly empty seats at a small theater he put up on the fairgrounds of the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. Muybridge eventually returned to his native Surrey, England, where he died of a heart attack on May 8, 1904.
One year after his death, the first movie house opened in America.