It was 1872 when Leland Stanford first hired Eadweard Muybridge to do some photographic work. Stanford had become very interested in Occident, his little brown Morgan horse, and was determined to satisfy his questions concerning the movement of horses trotting or running, as he had long believed the accepted theories as portrayed by most artists were inaccurate. He initially paid Muybridge the sum of $2000 to undertake these experiments, which over the next decade would cost him more than $50,000. The first of these were of Occident, who Muybridge photographed in a private speed trial in 1872, succeeding at that time in capturing a single negative which showed the horse with all four feet off the ground while trotting. This was made into a lithograph by Currier and Ives, but the public needed more evidence to be convinced, so many more experiments would follow.
Muybridge was an English photographer, born in 1830, who came to San Francisco at the age of 25 in 1855 when the Gold Rush was at its peak. He established a bookstore, changing the original spelling of his last name from Muggeridge to Muybridge at that time. His shop was quite successful and he brought his brothers to California to tend it while he traveled. Observing the beauties of nature, he decided to travel back to England to learn professional photography. On this journey he was involved in a serious stagecoach accident in which he suffered a severe concussion from which it took him nearly a year to recover, during which he endured headaches, double vision, and temporary loss of the senses of hearing, smell, and taste. As the doctors he saw in America were unable to help him find relief from these symptoms, he went on to England, and sought the care of Dr. William Gull. Gull was one of the most eminent physicians in the country, and later was made a Baronet for his skill in saving the life of the Prince of Wales. In an interesting twist, during the 1970s there was speculation that Gull had staged his death and was in fact, Jack the Ripper although this is highly unlikely. At any rate, Gull’s recommendation for Muybridge was that he should pursue an outdoor career to restore his health.
At that time, stereoscopic photos were quite popular, and Muybridge believed he might find a lucrative career for himself in photographing views of remote and exotic places. He returned to San Francisco in the mid-1860’s, and over the next few years produced more than 2000 photos, documenting lighthouses of the Pacific Coast, scenery of Yosemite, views of San Francisco, railroads, and much more. These photos brought him considerable fame and fortune, and Leland Stanford believed he was the man to help him prove his theory that a horse trotting fast has all four feet off the ground at some point in his stride.
The photographic experiments were interrupted in 1874 when Muybridge discovered his young wife had been having an affair with a drama critic known as Major Harry Larkyns. Even more infuriating to Muybridge was the fact that he found a series of love letters between the two, indicating that Larkyns might be the true father of the little boy his wife had given birth to a few months earlier. Muybridge tracked Larkyns down and finding him said, “Good evening Major, my name is Muybridge, and here is the answer to the letter you sent my wife!” He then shot Larkyns point blank and killed him. Muybridge was arrested without protest and tried for murder. Leland Stanford stood by him during this time and helped to finance his criminal defense. His lawyers attempted an insanity defense based on injuries from Muybridge’s stagecoach accident years earlier and several witnesses testifying to changes in his personality resulting from this. However, Muybridge himself undermined this defense by continuing to insist that he meant to kill Larkyns. Ultimately, however, when all the evidence was presented, the jury was persuaded in Muybridge’s favor and he was acquitted on grounds of “justifiable homicide”. Following the trial, Muybridge left the country for a little while and worked on documenting views of Central America and the Isthmus of Panama until things cooled down.
Stanford, meanwhile, decided he would buy another horse. He wanted a horse that was handsome and stylish as well as fast, and turned once again to the Morgan breed, purchasing the beautiful gray gelding Abe Edgington, a son of Wilson’s Stockbridge Chief Jr. #1213 (Stockbridge Chief #102 by Black Hawk #20 x Blue Bonnet by Tom Crowder #618, son of Pilot #104). A great-grandson of Black Hawk, Abe traced his sireline directly to Justin Morgan in five generations, with many more crosses in six. The second dam of Stockbridge Chief #102 was by Brutus #2, a son of Justin Morgan. Stockbridge Chief Jr. had been owned for a time by W.H. Wilson, the man who bred Jubilee De Jarnette from the great mare
Lady De Jarnette, who was so beautiful she was banned from the show ring and instead paid $500 per week just to be driven around the track at the fairgrounds so people could see her. Wilson sold Stockbridge Chief Jr. to Ohio, where Abe Edgington was bred. Leland Stanford paid $20,000 for this horse, solely for his style, beauty, and breeding—considerably more than he later paid for his best breeding stallion, Electioneer. This is testimony to the deep appreciation Leland Stanford held for the Morgan horse, and although he later developed what would become the largest and most successful Standardbred breeding farm of its day, he always kept a strain of Morgan blood in his horses.
Next: More on Abe Edgington, and Muybridge’s photographic experiments at Palo Alto
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© 2016, Brenda L. Tippin. Please do not copy without permission