Flying Horses

marryingminda-crop-to-useOn our recent trip north to visit our niece Katie and hubby John in the Lake Tahoe area, we paused to take in the sites and history of Sacramento including the mansion  some-wedding-sacramento-reno-tahoe-2009-115of Leland Stanford (1824-1893). Stanford wore such hats as California governor, railroad baron, university founder…and race horse owner. One of the video displays at the mansion shows his search to settle one of the hot debates of the 1870’s: Is there a moment in a horse’s gait when all four hooves are off the ground at once?


There is a legend that Leland Stanford bet $25,000 that it was true. Common reaction at the time nixed the idea. After all, if God wanted horses to “fly”, He would have given the creature wings.  But determined to settle the question, Stanford hired celebrity photographer Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) to prove it.


Actually Muybridge was born Edward Muggeridge in Kingston-Upon-Thames, Surrey, near London. He adopted the more dramatic moniker, believing it to be the true Anglo-Saxon spelling. eadweard-muybridgeHowever, he soon shortened it to Helios and became one of San Francisco’s most celebrated landscape photographers, taking more then 2,000 photographs with 20×24 inch negatives. His 1867 photographs of Yosemite Valley brought the valley…and himself…almost mythic status.


He accepted Stanford’s challenge in 1872 and came to “the farm” in Palo Alto. (It now is Stanford University.)  After a bit of a detour –Muybridge went on trial for killing his wife’s lover— he found it wise to spend some time in Mexico and Central America even though he was acquitted on the grounds of justifiable homicide. Here he did photography work for Union Pacific Railroad, one of Stanford’s companies. In 1877 Muybridge came back to Palo Alto and continued his experiments in motion photography, using 12 to 24 cameras and a special shutter he developed that gave an exposure of 2/1,000 of a second. stanford-horse-farm-camera

Muybridge’s first attempt indeed captured Stanford’s horse, Occident, silhouetted against white sheets with all four feet off the ground. Although these original pictures didn’t survive, Muybridge continued to work with Stanford to develop techniques in the “science of animal motion.”

In 1878, he succeeded in photographing a sequence of frames produced on wet plate with 12 cameras that proved the “flying horse.” The slow wet plate collodion process produced images that were mostly silhouettes, but they showed something never before seen by the human eye. muybridge-horse-3



iscientific-american-october-18-18781Scientific American and other prominent publications featured articles on Muybridge’s accomplishment. However, Stanford invited his close friend, horseman and medical physician  Dr. J.B.D. Stillman to produce a book analyzing the horse-in-motion. Stillman used Muybridge’s photography without crediting the photographer. Interestingly, when Muybridge sued Stanford and Stillman for copyright infringement, he lost his suit.

Eadweard migrated to the University of Pennsylvania after that where he developed sequences of human figures, both clothed and naked (including himself unclothed). This important collection helped scientists and artists study human and animal movement, and many of the sequences were published in 1887 in a portfolio,  “Animal Locomotion, An Electro-Photographic Investigation of Consecutive Phases of Animal Movement.”. To simplify, imagine the “flip books” of your childhood. And actually, Muybridge’s sequences are available for kids in just this format in the mansion gift shop.

For all these reasons, and for the big one — the zoopraxiscope—Eadweard Muybridge is often called the father of the motion picture. To illustrate his lectures, he developed the’scope; its lantern projected images in rapid succession onto a screen. The images came from his photographs, printed on a glass disc. From the rotating disc came the illusion of moving pictures. muybridge-zoopraxiscope

Muybridge’s zoopraxiscope display, an important predecessor of the modern cinema, was a sensation at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. Muybridge continued to promote his photography and publish his work until his retirement in 1900 at which time he returned to England. “Animal Locomotion” is still in demand by art students today.     flying-single-horse 

I’m always amazed at the progress and prowess of people who came before. What a debt we owe to their ingenuity, their resilience. In honor of Eadweard Muybridge’s legacy, what are your favorite motion pictures?


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19 thoughts on “Flying Horses”

  1. Amazing story, Tanya. I didn’t know this story. As for favorite movies…wow, there are so many, I could never name one. I’m a netflix junkie, watching all the great oldies. Can’t imagine life without movies.

  2. Hi Elizabeth, thanks for stopping by. I love dozens of them, too. I think Moonstruck is a good one to list today. I watched it again the other day and just love every second of it. oxoxoxox

  3. Favorite movies? Too many to name, like the others, but the Lord of the Rings series stands out in my mind. We certainly do owe a huge debt to all the inventive people of the past. Great post!

  4. This is so interesting. I had no idea they could take pictures that snapped quick enough to capture something in motion. Doesn’t it seem like, back then, people had to sit bone-still for quick an elapse of seconds, to get their picture taken?

    I just love stories of invention and pushing the current techniques to new heights. Thanks Tanya.

  5. Interesting post, Tanya. When I read your blog title, my mind conjured an image of Pegasus, the beloved flying red horse that tops one of the buildings in downtown Dallas. Thanks for the info–and the memory.

  6. Hi Jennie, I agree wholeheartedly. I just can’t imagine my teensie little brain coming up with something so innovative and earth-changing.

    Hi Mary, yes, I have tons of miserable-looking ancestors in miserable unsmiling poses LOL. I didn’t see anything on cost when I researched but with gazillionaire Leland Stanford involved, I’m guessing Muybridge’s equipment was hyper-expensive.

    Thanks for coming by today, ladies.

  7. Hi Tracy, I haven’t been to Dallas but I totallyl ove Pegasus. In fact, I had a pic of him to use today but it seemed to crowd everything else.

    Thanks for posting! oxoxoxxo

  8. Hi Tanya,

    I remember seeing something about this in a museum when I was little. The flying horse–such a great story. It urks me to have people belittle unusual ideas like Stanford had–that is where true inventiveness and vision is born. It’s in the “what if???” (I remember a few ideas I’ve had myself that were scoffed at, only to learn years later that someone had the same thoughts and ran with them, making a new invention here and there. Most likely that has happened to others as well) Anyway–I digress…to answer your question about the movie — I’ll always say Man from Snowy River. And a short dash to second place is The Big Country. Love the soundtracks in both of them too.

  9. I’d be lost without movies, Tanya! I have so many favorites. A few off the top of my head:
    Grease, Last of the Mohicans, Titanic, The Truth about Cats and Dogs, French Kiss, Music & Lyrics, Lake House, PS I Love You. I’ll stop now. 😀 I could go on and on. Thanks for the great post!

  10. Hi Kathryn, I always admire people with those out-there ideas. Probably because I am so boring LOL. I loved The Man From Snowy River but my heart broke when they shot that glorious mountain horse out from under him.

    Thanks for posting today.

  11. Hey Penny, many of your favorites are mine too. I’ve also got to short-list Notting Hill and Armegeddon. But as you say, the list could go on and on and on…thanks for coming by the Junction today! Good to see you here. oxoxo

  12. Hi Tanya,

    I loved this blog. You take things for granted alot these days.Sometimes I wish I lived in the past for things seem to be alot less hectic.

    Walk in peace and harmony,

  13. HI Tanya,
    Great blog today. I enjoyed reading about inventions too and how they came about. I love so many movies, that I can’t really pinpoint actual favorites. But I’m so glad we have them today!!

  14. So many favorites that I couldn’t begin to list
    them all! Just a couple are Knock On Any Door
    (Humphrey Bogart, John Derek) and Love With A
    Proper Stranger ( Steve McQueen, Natalie Wood.)

    Pat Cochran

  15. Hi Melinda, yes, I’d love to go back in time for a spell. But…I suspect I’d miss plumbing and antiobiotics LOL. I think I would like a simpler time. Thanks for posting today oxoxoxoxx.

  16. Hi Charlene, thanks for posting. I know you love movies! I still remember the Notebook. oxoxoxox

    Pat, my favorite Bogart is Casablanca. A true classic, not to be missed. Thanks for stopping by today.

  17. Hi Tanya, What a fascinating blog! If I had to pick one favorite movie, it would probably be “Sound of Music.” Then again, “An Officer and a Gentleman” gets me every time. I like “Witness” too. You can tell I go for “clash of culture” stories.

  18. hi Vicki, thanks for coming by. I think my mix ofmovies ispretty clashy, too. I can’t ever list favorites without including Armageddon LOL.

    OOooooh, I so love Sound of Music. For my birthday recently, hubby got me tix so my bffs and I could go see it giant-screen at the Hollywood Bowl, with everybody singing along. Totall sell-out. Oh, we intend to do it every year. It was such fun.

    When our son was a little boy, everyone said he looked just like the little guy in Witness. Good flick indeed


  19. Favorite movies –
    Last of the Mohicans
    Pride and Prejudice – the A& E version with Colin Ferth.
    Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
    Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
    Oliver – the musical version

    I like a lot of others, these I watch over and over.

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