Monday, April 7, 2014

Five historic figures who behaved badly (part two of five)


(Part Two of Five)

Humanity has a notoriously nasty habit of glossing over the bad things that might upset them when concerning heroic historic figures. We seem to forget that they were human and had as many faults as they did graces. Every grade school kid learns how Benjamin Franklin is one of America’s early founders and left a legacy of wisdom and innovate invention that changed the country for the better but don’t know he was also a crusty old lecher riddled with sexual disease. In 1492 Columbus may have sailed the ocean blue but he also systematically wiped out the natives in search for gold. Let’s take a look at some other well known figures who were less than stellar human beings:

4. Eadweard Muybridge

Father of cinematography, crazy hobo and murderer

The Good

In the nineteenth century the invention of the camera was treated as nothing more than a doohickey; a funny little scientific device that would never go anywhere like, you know, modern plumbing or the internet.

So it came as a surprise to all when it caught on enough for some enterprising individuals to make a good living out of it. One of those being Eadweard Muybridge; The Man Who Won a Bet.

Everybody knows how this story goes; in 1872 Leland Stanford made a bet whether or not a horse’s hooves left the ground as it ran and hired Muybridge to take a step by step photographic series proving that in fact, yes all four hooves left the ground. Thus the humble beginnings of the motion picture industry began with a click and a wealthy man becoming wealthier.

The Bad

Muybridge was born Edward James Muggeridge and perhaps out of shame of his unfortunate last name he emigrated from England to San Francisco in 1851 just in time to catch the end of the gold rush. So while dreams of a solid gold chamber pot didn’t pan out the newfangled fad of photography did. Muybridge had been noted to have strange behavior but it may not have been entirely his fault; on one trip back to Europe he got into a nasty accident that left him in a coma for three days. Afterwards he said that he had lost his sense of smell and taste and it is thought that he received serious neurological damage that may have contributed to his crazy times.

He decided that his true name would be Edward Muygridge, no wait – Eduardo Santiago, or maybe it was just Helios. God knows, because he actually changed his name legally about five times before settling on Muybridge (unfortunately, he also gave his son the regrettable epithet Floredo Helios in which surely there were no repercussions growing up for that kid, at all.)

It’s actually kind of surprising that people came to him at all to photograph anything; by all accounts he dressed like a penurious, moth-eaten, grungy derelict. Kind of like something you’d dig up on the bottom of a hoarder’s ancient, feculent refrigerator.

So those patrons who didn’t mistake him for a transient who wandered in off the street had to put up with other unsanitary behaviors such as when he reviewed his photographs he had a habit of eating cheese-flies. You heard that correctly, cheese flies, tiny insects that congregated around week old cheese that this man shoved into his mouth on a regular basis.

The Ugly

While dressing like a refugee of Robinson Crusoe and eating, let us say, protein rich food things is odd but not exactly a hanging offense- murdering people is.

Bizarrely this strange dishabille man managed to marry a pretty young lady twenty years his junior in 1871 by the name of Flora. Soon after they had Floredo Helios and soon after that Muybridge got it into his head that the child was not his and that Flora had been having an affair. As to why any woman would cheat on a fly-eating, crazy haired hobo is a mystery for the ages.

However, there is substantial proof that Flora had been carrying on an affair with a Major Harry Larkyns, including letters and the rumor mill of San Francisco who saw her with him during the time the couple lived there. But there was no proof to say that his son was not his. Instead of, say, hiring a private investigator or any other number of logical actions to prove her infidelity or hell, just filing for a divorce Muybridge tracked the man down and put a bullet through his heart.

Having done so in front of a bunch of people pretty much cemented the guilty verdict which would have landed him a lifetime imprisonment in jail had it not been for two things; one, he pleaded insanity (which there might have been a grain of truth to) and two, this was a court in the 19th century, meaning it was more or less a group of stodgy old men who were more interested in keeping the status quo than delivering justice.

The lawyer (who presumably got his degree at Stanford University of Bullshittery) pleaded that this “poor, wronged and maddened man” couldn’t be held responsible for the murder because the harridan, harpy wife who cheated on him surely drove him to madness.

And presumably the court harrumphed and garrumphed and blamed the world’s ills on the perfidy of womankind then went and smoked cigars together allowing Muybridge to continue on with his photography career.

The worst part of this series of events is soon after Muybridge was acquitted Flora died and instead of taking responsibility for a child who, whether he was the father or not, needed someone to be a parent to him, Muybridge dumped him in an orphanage and never looked back. Considering the concern the Victorians had for children in orphanages one can assume Floredo Helios may have grew up to become a serial killer or worse, a street mime. (General biography of Muybridge life, murder of wife’s lover) (‘Did Muybridge get away with murder?’ Letter’s of infidelity, 1875 trial Muybridge claims insanity) *Candice Millard “Running Through His Mind

‘The Inventor and the Tycoon,’ by Edward Ball (‘The Inventor and the Tycoon’ New York Times piece on Muybridge, his personal grooming habits, or lack of, ‘cheese flies’ and his general borderline insanity)

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