The fate of Flora Muybridge or why I want to be cremated when I’m gone.

2 04 2008


While I was at the OAH last week, I picked up a copy of River of Shadows, by Rebecca Solnit. It’s a wonderful book; kind of a meditation on the life of the photographer Eadweard Muybridge and his contributions to the technology of photography and technology and general. Nevertheless, I can’t help dwell on the fate of his wife.

Flora Muybridge is pictured above. She was half Edweard’s age and mostly unhappy in marriage it seems because her husband was absent all the time photographing landscapes and more than a little nuts thanks to a carriage accident. She took a lover, had a baby and when Muybridge found out that the baby wasn’t his, he shot the lover dead. Muybridge was acquitted, Flora divorced him and she died of typhoid at an early age.

A better blogger than I would probably spin that last paragraph into a wonderful post all by itself, but I want to focus on this from the end of Solnit’s book:

Flora Muybridge is buried behind the United Artists Multiplex Cinema in Colma, California. In many California coastal Indian theologies, souls travel west over the Pacific after death, and west of nineteenth-century San Francisco was a quartet of large cemeteries, a city of the dead. Flora was among the San Franciscans who were buried there from the 1860s to the turn of the twentieth century, when the expanded city decided there was no longer room for its past and banned burials. A few decades later, city workers began to exhume the bodies so that the graveyards, which had grown wild and weedy, could be recycled into real estate. The dead were sent a dozen or so miles south to Colma, the cemetery city that is now also a city of big-box stores on the San Francisco peninsula, and their tombstones were recycled as landfill and building material. The exact location of Flora’s remains is inked in an old ledger book at the Greenlawn Cemetery, but she is buried with hundreds of others in a scruffy field behind United Artists marked only by a single marble monument rising from the weeds.

I knew the Romans recycled tombstones hundreds of years after the fact, but what was that altogether, maybe 70 years? Seriously, what’s the point of getting buried when nobody will know you ever existed after a generation or two? I’ve been to some of the oldest cemeteries around Boston and even though you can still read some of the grave markers, most of the stones there are still gone.

I say let your works be your monument. Stones are no better than paper in the great scheme of things.




4 responses

13 01 2011
Rosie Rogers

Nice post. I too was enthralled by the story of Flora Muybridge and the murder of her lover. I have borrowed this image for a post I have written about Eadweard Muybridge, would love to know what you think.

15 06 2011
Do you dig graves? « More or Less Bunk

[…] Muybridge (Edweard Muybridge’s estranged wife) ending up in a mass grave in a scruffy field behind a California multiplex. But what happens to you and your headstone even if you aren’t reburied near a shopping mall? […]

14 09 2013
David Stansfield

Dear Jonathan Rees

For the last 26 years – on and off – I’ve been working on what is the first ever novel about Muybridge. Most of the world wasn’t much interested in the man and his extraordinary life for much of this time. But now, at last, Hollywood is paying attention – and find it a riveting story – Gary Oldman, Andy Serkis and Cohen Media all currently have films in development, based only on what they have – some excellent, but strictly non-fiction books.

This is the only dramatic novel about the man himself: an adventure story about Eadweard Muybridge: artist, scientist, lover. Strong as an ox and delicate as a flower, stubborn as a mule and trusting as a child, a friend of Royalty and Chinese porters, a household name.

Climb inside his head as he survives death three times, makes the world’s first motion picture, shoots his wife’s lover, stands trial while they test the gallows outside the courtroom window, and takes ten thousand nude photographs. Join him as he looks under the skirts of Nature and captures what he sees at twenty-four pictures a second.

If you’d like to find out what Jack the Ripper, Lewis Carroll, the Lumière brothers, Thomas Edison, Sarah Bernhardt and the future King Edward VII were really like, Muybridge will introduce them to you.

I thought you might be interested. You can find the book on Amazon and Kindle.

David Stansfield

The former Managing Director of, Cecile Moulard, wrote the following about my novel:

Have you met Eadweard Muybridge? I loved this extraordinary man, I identified with him at times, David Stansfield makes him so alive, so human, so present.
I savored the different levels of the text offered by the author. They complement themselves, nourish themselves, enrich themselves: the child aching for love; the grown-up lover, sincere and immature, murdered and murdering; the father of pure invention at the mercy of his brilliant, tyrannical sponsor; the genius embraced by both the artistic and the scientific community; a man both of and ahead of his time who meets the brilliant opportunist Edison, who is a friend of Nadar, of the obese and charming Prince Edward, of the Lumière brothers…
Stansfield takes us on a journey. This is a book about Talent, about the strange proximity of the artistic and the scientific world, about Love, about the World at the end of the 19th century and the ties that bind the cultural elites of America and Europe. This is a jewel.

14 08 2014
Art in Motion | Snail's Postcard Post

[…] (Photograph from The Fate of Flora Muybridge) […]

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