Nov. 2, 1878 San Francisco San Francisco County California, USA
From Rogue Scholar by Richard W. Bailey:
"William was a wealthy and honored man, who, having been in California since 1849, had qualified himself for membership in the Society of California Pioneers. A brief episode of gold mining instructed him that the way to wealth lay in photography, a skill he had mastered before leaving Canada. With a huge wagon set up as a "daguerreotype saloon," he plied his trade in the goldfields before settling in Sonora, where once he managed to save his studio from a fire by having a team of oxen draw it out of harm's way. In 1863, he had moved to San Francisco, where he remained until the end of his life, as he grew increasingly prominent in photography. (In 1873, he was to win a gold medal at a competition in Vienna, and in 1874 he would be elected president of the National Photographic Association.) Innovation and creativity lay at the heart of his success. In a wonderful combination of the two modes of representation then competing with each other, he turned a room into a camera and produced life-size photographs. He then engaged a painter to add colors to make the image even more lifelike. He was a founding member of the Bohemian Club and its official photographer.
"Beneath this surface of respectability and success lay small deceptions and dissimulations. One of his death notices declared that he was a native of Pennsylvania, another that he had been born in Maine. Rulofson liked to relate that he had been shipwrecked in 1846 and landed, after "proloned suffering," destitute, at Liverpool. Only his skill as a photographer, he said, had enabled him to earn his return passage. He wanted people to believe that he had overcome obstacles through self-reliance, ability, and determination. Only much later did close inquiry reveal that the ship in question was outbound from Liverpool when it went aground, and that its passengers were given free passage on the next available ship. Many episodes mentioned in reports of his election as president of the Photographic Association were similarly fictitious: he had not, for instance, been as a teenager "a wanderer over many lands, including Europe, America, and the islands of the sea."
"William's biographies did not mention that in 1847, in Canada, he had made pregnant a fourteen-year-old girl: Amelia Violet Currie (1833-67). Their son was born there in 1848, and one of his biographers presumes that the precocious marriage may have hastened his departure, alone, for California. He returned for his family in 1850, and Amelia would bear five more children. She died at the end of January in 1867, and four months laterWilliam was married a second time, now to twenty-two-year-old Mary Jane Morgan, then employed as a receptionist at his studio. This union produced another five children. His second son, between the time of his mother's death and his father's remarriage, went to sea 'to escape the severity of his father's punishment'; on his return, father and son agreed that the captain of the vessel should adopt the nineteen-year-old boy. In 1874, William would stand up for one of his employees, Eadweard Muybridge, who had killed his wife's lover. Muybridge would be acquitted, in part on William's testimony that 'a crime of passion' was only a manly act. In 1875, the youngest daughter of his first wife would die under suspicious circumstances; the inquest finding 'welts... presumed to have been inflicted by her half-brother, Charles,' then nine years old. The old man seems to have spawned a young killer.
"These acts of violence do not find their way into William's photography, but they are vividly on display in a book published in 1877 that he claimed to be his own, The Dance of Death. It is a violent attack on the 'intolerable nastiness' of the waltz, and a morbid anatomy of sexual desire. A man leading his partner in the dance is vividly described: 'his eyes, gleaming with a fierce intolerable lust, gloat satyr like over her.' When it was published, some reviewers thought it must be a hoax, and Ambrose Bierce, who knew about its composition, later alleged that it was. Years later, Bierce said: 'W.H. Rulofson (the 'William Herman' of the title page)... suggested the scheme and supplied the sinews of sin,' and the precise sharing of the authorship is unimportant for an understanding of Rulofson. William claimed the book, and no one denied his ownership of its message. A few months before his death, he told a visitor to the studio: 'I have shown society what a loathsome ulcer festers in its midst.' For William, the book was no hoax, and the waltz was a matter of secret, hidden horror. That it was seen as hyperbole is a measure of how far it departed from even the most extreme expressions of moral outrage of the day, a time when fervor against sin ran high."