The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and the Birth of Moving Pictures

The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and the Birth of Moving Pictures

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by Edward Ball
     
 

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From the National Book Award-winning author of Slaves in the Family, a riveting true life/true crime narrative of the partnership between the murderer who invented the movies and the robber baron who built the railroads.
 
One hundred and thirty years ago Eadweard Muybridge invented stop-motion photography, anticipating and making possible

Overview

From the National Book Award-winning author of Slaves in the Family, a riveting true life/true crime narrative of the partnership between the murderer who invented the movies and the robber baron who built the railroads.
 
One hundred and thirty years ago Eadweard Muybridge invented stop-motion photography, anticipating and making possible motion pictures. He was the first to capture time and play it back for an audience, giving birth to visual media and screen entertainments of all kinds. Yet the artist and inventor Muybridge was also a murderer who killed coolly and meticulously, and his trial is one of the early instances of a media sensation. His patron was railroad tycoon (and former California governor) Leland Stanford, whose particular obsession was whether four hooves of a running horse ever left the ground at once. Stanford hired Muybridge and his camera to answer that question. And between them, the murderer and the railroad mogul launched the age of visual media.
   
Set in California during its frontier decades, The Tycoon and the Inventor interweaves Muybridge's quest to unlock the secrets of motion through photography, an obsessive murder plot, and the peculiar partnership of an eccentric inventor and a driven entrepreneur. A tale from the great American West, this popular history unspools a story of passion, wealth, and sinister ingenuity.

Editorial Reviews

English-born photographer Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) earned enduring fame as "the Father of Motion Pictures." Less well known is that a jury had acquitted him on a homicide charge, even though he freely acknowledged stalking and killing his unarmed victim. National Book Award-winning historian Edward Ball (Slaves in the Family) captures the brilliance of this enigmatic man in a narrative that one early reviewer called an "enlightening tale of power, the wedding of art and technology, and tragedy."

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780385535496
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
01/22/2013
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
464
Sales rank:
19,196
File size:
25 MB
Note:
This product may take a few minutes to download.

Read an Excerpt

Part One

Chapter 1

The Stanford Entertainment

The mansion in San Francisco had collapsed with the earthquake in 1906 and burned to nothing a day later in the fires. I walked up the face of Nob Hill to look at the place where it used to stand. Could there be a tiny remnant of this temple of money? The hill had been known as California Hill until Leland Stanford and family moved there in 1876, followed by their preposterously rich friends. After that it was Nob Hill. Stanford and the other nabobs (a word borrowed from Mughal India, trimmed in America to “nobs”) built houses that showed their money and looked with a possessive gaze at the city below. The day after the earthquake the fire came, on a Thursday morning in April, and the two disasters took down all the big houses but one.

At the top of Nob Hill today are apartment buildings, hotels, a little park. The place that survived, the last sign of the sovereigns who had set themselves up on these blocks, was the Flood house. James Flood, a mining multimillionaire, was one of the men who exploited the Comstock Lode, a thick vein of silver in Nevada that ended up in most coins. The fire had somehow wrapped around and missed his house. When the silver man died, the Flood mansion went into the hands of the Pacific-Union Club, which seems fitting—a men’s club whose members dote on money, the way the nabobs did. I looked at the Flood house, a megalith in brown stucco, and imagined it in its original setting, amid a colony of American palaces. The first and most ostentatious of them, the Stanford house, used to stand a block to the east, at California and Powell Streets. An eight-story hotel now occupied that site, planted over the ruins. Only the granite wall that used to frame the house remained.

Mark Twain’s novel The Gilded Age gave its name to the late nineteenth century, a time of monopoly with its high tide of corruption and greed. Nob Hill was one of the age’s capitals, and whatever went on here took shape in a Brobdingnagian scale. But one episode of those years, as far as I can see, has been overlooked. It could be said that the world of visual media got under way on this hill, amid the new money of California, in the late 1800s. It happened one night at a party, at which the entertainment was a photographer called Edward Muybridge.

January 16, 1880

California and Powell Streets, San Francisco

It was the night pictures began to move. Just what it was that happened that night could not be accurately described for many years. It would not be comprehensible until the movie theaters had spread and the television stations were built, or maybe even until screens appeared in most rooms and people carried them in their hands. That winter night in San Francisco pictures jumped into motion, someone captured time and played it back. A newspaperman noticed that something unusual had happened, although he did not say anything about time. He noticed only that whatever it was that happened had taken place in the home of the best-known citizen of the state of California; he noticed these facts but missed the main event. The newspaperman pointed out that a photographer of angular shape named Edward Muybridge and his new machine had been the reason for the gathering, but he did not describe what Muybridge had done. Thanks to the paper (and notwithstanding the reporter’s oversights), we know who was there, in the house. We know who came around to the stupendous mansion where Muybridge assembled his mechanism and put it in motion and carried it through its initial performance.

The event with the photographer took place in the home of an abnormally rich family. It was the end of the week. The family stayed in for the evening and invited some friends for a party and a show.

Their brown, stuccoed palazzo occupied the best site on California Hill, looking out to the flickering lights on San Francisco Bay and down at the streets of the rolling city. From a block away—and you had to get that far back to see the whole thing—the house looked to be a chunky, dark mass, Italianate in style. The owners of the house wanted it to exceed, if possible, the pomp of the European palaces, and to achieve this they had hired the New York design firm Pottier & Stymus, which had a record of extravagance, to ornament every square yard of its interior. When the decorators were finished, the place had a magnitude and pretense that no one in California had previously seen. Without rival, it was the most talked-up house west of the Mississippi.

The Stanford family lived here, just three people, a mother and father and their eleven-year-old son. The Stanfords employed about twelve servants, half of whom lived in the brown house and some of whom traveled with the family to serve them at their horse farm south of the city. Newspapers were soaked with ink about the Stanfords’ outsized lives. The San Francisco Daily Call labeled tonight’s event “The Stanford Entertainment,” and from those three words everyone knew where and for whom the photographer Edward Muybridge was doing whatever it was he did with his picture machine.

This year he was Edward Muybridge, but the spelling of his name would soon change, as it had done on four previous occasions. Every few years, the photographer would move a vowel or switch a couple of consonants. He used to be Edward Muygridge, and before that, Edward Muggeridge. For a few years he used the professional name “Helios,” the single moniker of an artist, borrowed in this case from the Greek god of the sun.

Along with his name, his working life had already passed through several metamorphoses. During his twenties Muybridge had been a book and print salesman for a London publisher; he sold dictionaries and encyclopedias and art books, engravings, and lithographs. In his thirties he tried to make a living as an inventor but failed when buyers showed indifference to his patents. After that, he put on the top hat of a capitalist: he started a mining company, and then an investment firm. Both ended badly. At age thirty-seven, he invented himself for the last time, as an artist: he became a photographer. He had followed a wandering path and only came to a single road as a middle-aged man. The choice of photography, at last, seemed to him to vindicate all the disappointments and failures that had gone before.

Edward Muybridge wore a beard down to the middle of his chest, a gray weave with a dark residue. Occasionally he might have combed it. The hair on his head was white, swirling at the ears, tossed up from his brow. His eyes were sharp blue. The crinkly beard and flowing hair made him look antique, wizardlike. One newspaper said that Muybridge looked “at least ten years older” than his natural age, which was forty-nine: a man in midlife wearing a mask of seniority.

After twelve years with the camera, he was the best-known photographer in San Francisco. Part of his renown came from his pictures, notably the ones he had taken in Yosemite Valley. The naturalist John Muir had explored and written about the seven-mile-long chasm in upper California, an extravagance of cliffs and depths and vistas. A photographer called Carleton Watkins had been one of the first to descend into Yosemite’s hollows and come back with pictures. But Muybridge’s photographs of the valley’s flagrant rock faces and bridal-veil waterfalls had exceeded those of Watkins and helped to make Yosemite a part of national lore. The landscape of Yosemite, its wildness and excess, which Muybridge framed and made mythic, had come to represent the West to people in the eastern states.

Yosemite was part of Muybridge, but other parts of him were urban. Three years earlier he had made a panorama of San Francisco in photographs, the city in 360 degrees. To shoot it he had stood on the turret of the Mark Hopkins house, another mansion farther up the hill from the Stanford place. Muybridge had cranked the camera around on his tripod, measuring and panning, foot by foot, until the whole city went under the lens. He had given Leland Stanford and his wife, Jane, the biggest version of the panorama, an unrolling carpet of a picture, seventeen feet long and two feet high—an expensive thank-you gift for years of assignments and friendship.

The photographer who tramped the wilderness and scaled city summits had a thin, vigorous body. The same witness who called him “old” also wrote that Muybridge possessed the jauntiness of a twenty-five-year-old man. People knew his athleticism. He was the man who skipped down flights of stairs, the agile camera operator most conspicuous around San Francisco, a blur seen in continual movement from the Golden Gate to San Jose. The tripod went up—it must be Muybridge again—and it came down.

Edward Muybridge had another stroke of renown, outside of his work, which was the fame of his crime. Wherever he went, it followed the photographer. He was a murderer, and the aura of his violence lingered, stirring an atmosphere as palpable as his acclaim as an artist. Muybridge’s crime had been reported throughout the United States, so strange were its details, so fascinating was its passion to so many people. The photographer had a reasonable claim to be the one citizen who pulled behind him the largest cloud of dark gossip in the state of California. Of course he pretended as though the talk about him did not buzz incessantly, that he was merely a member of San Francisco’s small, vivid cultural establishment. Perhaps he had no other choice but to pretend. Certainly this pose worked more to his advantage than fully inhabiting the role of a killer.

Tonight Muybridge stood at a table in the middle of a giant room. In the Stanford mansion, the rooms had names. This one, in all probability, was the Pompeian Room, the showiest room, which the family used to entertain. About forty feet square, it had four walls of murals that replicated frescoes found in houses uncovered beneath the volcanic dirt at Pompeii. The Stanfords had paid Pottier & Stymus, the decorators, to create a showplace of replica history in their house. In the Pompeian Room they had placed gilded chairs and marble-topped tables with slender legs to make a pastiche of ancient Rome, and life-size marble nymphs to stand guard.

If not here, Muybridge may have stood in the Music and Art Room, a gallery twenty yards long whose wine-red walls were hung with fifty-some landscapes and portraits, and whose ceiling was painted with medallions depicting the faces of Rubens, Van Dyck, Beethoven, Mozart, Raphael, and Michelangelo. “Few palaces of Europe excel this house,” said one newswriter, who may not have been to Europe but who knew the fantasies of Americans who looked up to the Old World.

Or he could have been in one of the other downstairs parlors, or in the library, the ballroom, or the aviary. Huge mantelpieces and elaborate rosewood fittings dominated each of them, and a grove of furnishing spread to the edges in leather, silk, brocade, or velvet. Wherever Muybridge was, he had to clear away the crush of decor and work around chandeliers heavy as cannon that dangled just above the head, because he needed a straight thirty feet for what he had to accomplish. Muybridge made pictures that were very different from the imagery that decorated the walls, ceilings, and floors of the Stanford mansion. His pictures were not massive, like most of the fixtures, and they were not imitations of art found in Europe. They were evanescent and thin, they were pictures flung on air.

A scattering of guests arrived in twos and threes, with buttons on bulges, lace on bosoms. Some were politicians, like the newly elected governor of California, George Perkins, and Reuben Fenton, U.S. senator from New York and former governor. Behind the lawmakers came a phalanx of rich people, a few of them as rich as their hosts, the Stanfords. In this group were the neighbors, Charles Crocker and his wife, Mary Ann Deming, who lived two blocks away in a brown house only a little less grand than the Stanfords’ palazzo. There was also a young woman, Jennie Flood, an heiress in the new California manner. She came with her father, James Flood, a silver miner who had gotten rich on specie metal from Nevada and built a supreme and impressive house around the corner, at California and Mason Streets. Lesser elites and their spouses filled out the invitation list—a judge here, a doctor there.

Servants brought in drink, gaslight drank the air. The woman of the house, Mrs. Jane Stanford, presented herself, tall, ample, and bejeweled. Jane Stanford cultivated a gothic look. She liked to drape herself in crimson velvet, with pools of hem and long trains behind, old lace circling her neck. She was sure to be wearing an arm’s length of opals or a parure of diamonds consisting of necklace, bracelets, and earrings.

The night promised a pageant of some kind, but two men already radiated something of the theater. Leland Stanford and Edward Muybridge were the best-known men at the party—Stanford for his money, Muybridge for his pictures (as well as the other thing), and together they inspired most of the hushed chatter. They had known each other for almost ten years and had spent a lot of that time talking and wondering about a single subject: the gait of horses. A narrow topic, yes, but one on the mind of many in the year 1880. Everyone knew that Stanford was horse-mad, and that he and Muybridge had formed a bond over horses. It was Stanford’s belief that during a gallop, horses at some point in their stride lift all four hooves off the ground, that in effect, they become airborne. No one knew, really—the legs of a horse moved too fast to tell with the eye. Stanford had asked Muybridge to solve his problem, to prove or disprove his hypothesis, which horse people referred to as the theory of “unsupported transit.”

Some of the talk that Stanford aroused would not have flattered him. At least some of the guests at the party, perhaps the politicians and the more middle-class group, inevitably regarded their hosts with ambivalence—envy would not be too strong a word, and maybe a touch of fear. Almost twenty years before, Leland Stanford and several others had founded the Central Pacific Railroad, with Stanford in the role of company president. The firm, using big government subsidies, and the sweat of perhaps twenty thousand Chinese immigrants, had built the western half of the transcontinental line, the 850-mile track over the Sierra Mountains that linked California to the eastern states. In the early years of the Central Pacific, Stanford had been an object of fealty. Newspaper accounts painted him as a great benefactor of California: he brought work and wealth and even glory to the West, his admirers said, justifying the stage name of California, the Golden State.

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Meet the Author

EDWARD BALL is the author of four works of nonfiction, including the bestselling, National Book Award-winning Slaves in the Family. Born and raised in the South, he attended Brown University and received his MFA from the University of Iowa before coming to New York and working as an art critic for the Village Voice. He lives in Connecticut and teaches writing at Yale University.

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The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and the Birth of Moving Pictures 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 33 reviews.
ReaderPlusOH More than 1 year ago
I usually like this type of book, but was disappointed by the lack of editing somewhere along its production. Got tired of reading the same descriptions again and again. If the book was half the pages it is, would have been much better. Sorry, Mr. Ball.
Virus More than 1 year ago
In the age of cut and paste, this book should have been about 200 pages long.One gets lost in how the story flips around. It's terrible to lose the plot and story by the literary cuteness. It seems as if the publishing editors would have stopped this rambling mass of pointless history. How many times does a scene have to be repeated? I seem as if Ball started and stopped many times, over a great period of time, and forgot what he had written. The history is good, the geography is sound, but I grew tired of reading it and quit. What a waste of money
chellandandy More than 1 year ago
The Inventor and the Tycoon is the story of how moving pictures first came to be. It's the story of an a quest by railroad tycoon Leland Stanford and photographer Edward Muybridge trying to answer one question: does a horse ever leave the ground entirely while running. The book is also largely about Edward Muybridge's trial for murder. The topic is really interesting. However, I really didn't enjoy Mr Ball's style of writing. He jumps back and forth between the murder and the moving picture. He jumps back and forth between Stanford and Muybridge, and seems to randomly jumps to different points in their lives. In a few passages, Mr. Ball makes an allegation for how Stanford or Muybridge saw an event, and offers no actual evidence of his allegation. The topic is very interesting, but if you decide to read this book, bring a big bag of patience.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An interesting idea for a plot but wasted on too much detail. The book should be half the length it is, loses the reader between needless background and observations by the author. Lost my interest about 1/2 way. If you're looking for a book on history of America and what made our country, look elsewhere for the development of the railroad system. Don't buy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very good but too much detail on film production. Too technical.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is incredibly well written, with phrases like "buxom cheeks" and other poetic vocabulary. It has much too much detail, and it seems to strain at times to make these two men represent two different trends in society. It ends up being boring because of its sheer length. I could only read 2/3 of it before I dropped out. I may come back to it later, though.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting reading of the history of two men whos lives cross. The book bounces around a little too much so you have to pay close attention to the details.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
author kept repeating himself many times, could, nor did i wish to further read this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very interesting. Not boring at all
Man_Of_La_Book_Dot_Com More than 1 year ago
The Inven­tor and the Tycoon by Edward Ball is a non-fiction book about two pio­neers, a mur­der and motion pic­tures. The author is a National Book Award win­ner for his pre­vi­ous book Slaves in the Family. The book is divided into three parts: Part one goes back in tome from the 1880s to the 1860s when Stan­ford became a rich man from his hum­ble begin­nings as a shop owner. At the same time Ead­weard Muy­bridge becomes a photographer. The sec­ond part is less orga­nized and takes place dur­ing Stanford’s youth (1830s – 1870s not nec­es­sar­ily in order) and skips to Muybridge’s 1876 mur­der trial. Two years into his mar­riage, Muy­bridge dis­cov­ered that his wife Flora was cheat­ing on him with her friend Harry Larkyns. Dur­ing this time, Muy­bridge also found out that his son Flo­rado might have been fathered by his wife’s lover. In Octo­ber of that year, Muy­bridge tracked down Larkyns and shot him point blank. Later that evening Larkyns died and Muy­bridge was arrested. Dur­ing the trial the defense pleaded insan­ity even though the defen­dant fully admit­ted that his actions were delib­er­ate and planned. How­ever, the jury still found Muy­bridge not guilty on the grounds of jus­ti­fi­able homicide. Part two then jumps back to Muybridge’s youth (1830s) and ends in the 1850s and 1860s. The third part of the book is more straight­for­ward, start­ing where part 2 ended to Muybridge’s death at the begin­ning of the 20th Century. In The Inven­tor and the Tycoon, author Edward Ball has infused the famous and the infa­mous into a story so large it might as well be fic­tion. The story involves cap­i­tal­ism, money, mur­der, trains, horse rac­ing ,pho­tog­ra­phy and the begin­ning of mov­ing pictures. Leland Stan­ford, “the rich­est man west of the Mis­sis­sippi”, rail­road tycoon, rob­ber baron, patron of the arts and a hip­pophile had one ques­tion on his mind: do horses’ hooves leave the ground when they gal­lop. Enter pho­tog­ra­pher Ead­weard Muy­bridge who will try to prove Mr. Stan­ford right and, unbe­knownst to the two of them, usher the world into the age of movies. Mr. Ball teases the reader by not telling the story in a chrono­log­i­cal order, we start with Muy­bridge shock­ing a bunch of rich folks with his horse-in-motion dis­play, move on to a chap­ter about mur­der, to a his­tory of Stan­ford (for which Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity is named after), his rail­roads, Muybridge’s trial, Stanford’s fas­ci­na­tion with horses, pho­tog­ra­phy, the trial’s ver­dict and more. As you can see, the author plants a seed and leaves it alone by mov­ing on to another sub­ject which might or might not be related only to come back to the sub­ject later on. While I am not a fan of this style, Mr. Ball made it work and the sev­eral cliffhang­ers kept me hun­gry for more. Due to the struc­ture of the book, the author repeats sev­eral key facts which, if were told in order, the reader might have been able to keep in their heads. The struc­ture is odd, but it tells the story of two odd peo­ple (even though I have to admit that Muy­bridge is cer­tainly the one who is more strange) and some­how seems fit­ting. Muy­bridge dressed down, smoked a corn­cob pipe, changed the spelling of his name sev­eral time and mar­ries a woman half his age. Stan­ford headed a large com­pany build­ing the west­ern half of the transcon­ti­nen­tal rail­road, becom­ing a US Sen­a­tor and California’s governor. One of the more inter­est­ing aspects of the book was a short part at the end where Muy­bridge, who invented a “mov­ing pic­ture” met super-inventor Thomas Edi­son. The Wiz­ard of Menlo Park is not por­trayed very kindly in the book, he “had a habit of bor­row­ing the work of oth­ers and not return­ing it”, tak­ing Muybridge’s idea and basi­cally mak­ing it his own while throw­ing the pho­tog­ra­pher out and tak­ing credit for the ages. The book is fun to read, Mr. Ball cre­ates scenes which seemed to be taken out of a novel and make the read­ing move fast. Pep­pered through­out the book are pho­tographs demon­strat­ing Muybridge’s skill and evolv­ing exper­i­ments of early cin­e­matic magic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent account of the Gilded Age and of the collaboration and friendship between two men of vastly different social start, who come together to create what has become the modern film industry. Interning account of a little known occurrence.
pah67 More than 1 year ago
Rather dry , but a lot of CA. history I had never heard before. The history on Leland Stanford is really an eye opener. Greed has been a motivator in CA for eons!
Kid_Oh More than 1 year ago
I am enjoying reading this book. I lived in San Francisco for many years and remember the names of the streets. It is fun getting the 1800 view of the city.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love history in general and enjoyed the facts of this book. However, I thought the author would have done us all a favor by not jumping around so much. I like to learn how two stories develop in their own spheres and understand how they combine to create the story the author wants to tell. This author seemed to jump ahead, telling the reader the end before the reader even understood how it all began. It was a bit hard to follow. The characters themselves and the historical context of the story were both very interesting. Out of the five stars, I'd give it two or three at the most.
HamletFan More than 1 year ago
Thought this book would be more exciting like "The Devil in the White City". Much of this book is dry exposition. I found I did not like the characters in the book. No one was sympathetic. I was disappointed in this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought this was going to be a true crime- not! On page 101 and have already started skimming. I rarely give up on a book but i might have to with this one. Way too much detail on photography - too much detail on everything. Where is the STORY?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
StefanS More than 1 year ago
I became interested in Eadweard Muybridge (his spellings varied) when I was looking into the career of Leland Stanford and the railroad barons. Anyone who has an interest in the settlement of the American West, the remarkable development of applied technologies during the second half of the Nineteenth Century, or the social developments of the era (including the Gilded Age) may have an interest in this book. That said, readers should be skeptical about the author's suggestions that Muybridge is essentially responsible for movies, computer screens, and video displays (who knows? — even the Internet?!). Muybridge and Stanford are sufficiently interesting that the author, Edward Ball, had no need to spice up his narrative (and curious readers may be better served by Walter R. Borneman's _Rival Rails_). What is worse, the author writes as if readers in the Internet Age have attention spans of roughly 3 minutes or 3 pages, whichever comes first. Perhaps he hopes to turn this book into a motion picture (thank you Mr Muybridge) with artful flashbacks, colorful changes of scene (Sacramento! London! Yosemite! Paris! San Francisco!), and breathless you-are-there reportage. Unfortunately, the author's chopped-up narrative devices make only a hash of an interesting and important period and some of the colorful characters who deserve to be remembered with less blur.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful book, fabulously written. E. Ball jumps around just enough to where you don't get bored with one person and you can picture it all in your mind. Great pictures were added. Also nice to read about the happenings of the west during this time period. When is Mr. Ball coming out with his next?
AzGolf More than 1 year ago
It seemed there was alot of supposition and littel substance. This book could have been written in 50 pages or less including the table of contents. While the story was interesting it had little to due with the murder and more to do with the backgrounds of both men. I will admit it is nice to know how Stanford University came to be named.