Culture

The Inventor and the Tycoon: Exclusive Excerpt

Here at Signature, we try to balance our focus on "word" and "film." Today, we're focusing a little more closely on the "word" part of things, given our recent introduction to the book The Inventor and the Tycoon. In this work of nonfiction, National Book Award-winner Edward Ball explores the enigmatic relationship between Leland Stanford, the California tycoon who built the railroads, and Eadweard Muybridge, the man who helped invent the movie - who also happened to be a murderer. The introduction to the twisty tale in the video below includes some of Muybridge's original photos. And for your own pleasure, we offer the below exclusive excerpt from the book.

Enjoy, from Signature.

Si x years earlier ...

October 17, 1874, San Francisco

It was a Saturday, and Edward Muybridge walked home at about noon, crossing Market Street and making his way in somewhat of a delirium to his house at the corner of Howard and Third Streets. He had spent the morning talking to a woman named Susan Smith in her rooms on Telegraph Hill, and their conversation had disturbed him. No, it had stunned him, reduced him to animal shaking. Susan Smith was paid help, a midwife and nurse who a year earlier had worked for Muybridge and his wife, the former Flora Downs. Smith had helped Flora give birth to her son, the Muybridge couple's only child, and Smith had also taken care of the baby. She had done so in part because Edward and Flora were badly matched in their marriage (although neither would have said so). Edward could live on rice and wear a few things out of a suitcase, Flora liked clothes and luxury. Edward wanted to travel for work and stay home when he was in town, Flora liked the theater and friends and going out. What is more, Edward was forty-four, and Flora was twenty-three.

On this day Muybridge had come home to an empty house. Flora had been away with their baby for several months, leaving the photographer alone, which at any rate he preferred. After visiting Smith, Muybridge retreated for an hour to decide what to do about Smith's stories, and among the things he had to decide was whether to take out his gun.

To own a gun in California was more common than owning a horse. It was cheaper, to start, thanks to the efficient gun makers in Massachusetts and Connecticut, whose factories sent a stream of drop-forged, reliable, and not badly priced shooting gear out to the western states. California and the rest of the West, especially the glorious and strange and violent frontier parts, the underpopulated and contentious sprawl of Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Oregon, gave the gun makers their most reliable customers. These parts of America were home to the most steadfast buyers of guns, at least since the conclusion of the Civil War had taken away that previous heavy consumer of personal firearms, the government of the United States, which had bought up a million Winchesters and Colts to settle its disagreement with the southern states.

Edward Muybridge's gun was the most ordinary of revolvers, a Smith & Wesson #2. The #2, from the Smith & Wesson Company of Springfield, Massachusetts, had turned into the most popular revolver to accompany the national push into the West, which was now in full flood, with tens of thousands picking up their lives in the eastern states and carrying them across the Mississippi every year. The #2 was an instrument favored by lawmen and casual shooters, the gun of the boomtowns and the homesteaders and the traveling salesmen. It was a single-action six-shooter - you had to cock the hammer each time - and it took the medium bullets, .32-caliber ammunition. Just as the men in California's mining camps kept guns in their tents and cabins, Muybridge kept a pistol at home in the biggest city in the West, San Francisco, a would-be cosmopolitan capital that had not succeeded in restricting its ritual and frequent revenge killings, its I-am-a-man bloodiness, despite almost seasonal attempts to do so.

Edward Muybridge earned good money as a photographer, and he and Flora lived high. They had settled for two years at 3 South Park, which a reporter called their "fascinating address," one way of expressing envy at their stylish house. (It was no rival to the homes of Muybridge's friend, Leland Stanford, but no one could compete with the Stanfords.) In South Park, twenty-odd townhouses faced each other around an oval garden - to walk through it, you would think that San Francisco, the instant city of shacks and rooming houses and brothels, stood far away. You would think you were not in the West at all, but in a corner of London, maybe Grosvenor Square. Since then Muybridge and his wife had moved a few blocks north, and perhaps down a step on the social ladder, to a rented place where the Third Street trolley ran right past their window. (There again was Stanford, whose company, the Central Pacific Railroad, operated the streetcar.)

Arriving at home, Muybridge spent the hour dwelling on his choices before coming to a decision. It might have taken a few minutes to find the Smith & Wesson, which he did not use very much. Muybridge later told the papers that he had not fired his six-shooter in four months, although he did not say what he had previously shot at.

The photographer was in plain dress but high color - he wore his usual tattered gray jacket and wide-brimmed hat, a corncob pipe in his pocket. He had no reason to change clothes, and in his state of mind no ability to do so. When he let his mind go to the subject preoccupying him, he broke down weeping, until after two or three minutes he could again force composure on himself.

From his townhouse Muybridge walked across Market Street and made his way for fifteen minutes along Montgomery Street, three-quarters of a mile, arriving at number 429 - the address of Bradley & Rulofson, a photography studio that was his art dealer. Bradley & Rulofson was one of a handful of decent art galleries in San Francisco, and Muybridge had the distinction of being the gallery's most prominent artist. The gallery's managing partner, a portrait photographer called William Rulofson, was a slight, good-looking man with a full head of light hair and mutton chops. Rulofson, age forty-eight, said to be keen and volatile by people who observed these things, showed Muybridge's photographs in the gallery, sold them to collectors, and found clients for the artist, taking a commission on all of this from Muybridge's sales, which were constant and considerable. Rulofson later said that when Muybridge came into the gallery during the early afternoon that Saturday, his state of mind was "the most intense and agonizing I have ever seen." It was about 2 : 00 p.m. when the Smith & Wesson #2 and its owner reached Bradley & Rulofson's, and they stayed for ninety minutes.

Muybridge appeared to his friend and dealer to be something more than manic but something less than deranged. The two men spent much of this visit in Rulofson's third-floor office, where Muybridge talked and then yelled, moaned, wept, and occasionally got out a sentence or two about what he was going to do. At some point Muybridge brought out a piece of paper on which he had written some instructions. He gave the piece of paper to Rulofson and told his friend to put its contents into action if circumstances made it necessary. By "if " and "necessary," conditional words, he intended to suggest that he might not survive the events of the day, that the photographer, who had made a good deal of money for the gallery, might have to have his affairs settled by his business manager, Rulofson, in probate.

From The Inventor and the Tycoon © 2013 Random House Inc

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