Not Silk, Plaid

When not intimidated by his second wife, James Black railed against her spendthrift habits. “I’ll not cover her back in silk out of my money,” he thundered during an atypically long monologue.

After Black’s death in 1870, the oft-wed Widow Black traded her usual taffeta for a riotous plaid dress, immortalized in a luxurious setting by San Francisco’s eminent photographers Henry William Bradley (1813-1891) and William Herman Rulofson (1826-1878).

William Herman Rulofson – Wikipedia Commons

Bradley & Rulofson opened their gallery in in 1863 at 429 Montgomery Street. They exhibited at the San Francisco Mechanics’ Institute’s competitions from 1864 through 1874, winning prizes in 1864, 1865, and again in 1871. Bradley and Rulofson photographed hundreds of celebrities and notable Californians, including Bret Hart, Susan B. Anthony, Queen Emma of Hawaii, and the wonderfully eccentric Emperor Joshua A Norton.

Rulofson’s photographs won gold medals in Vienna (1873), as noted on the back of Mrs. Black’s photograph.

Marin History Museum

The back of Mrs. Black’s photograph also touts the studio’s “only elevator connected with photography in the world.” The partners paid $4,000 for an hydraulic elevator in 1872 but the lift’s photographic use is unknown. Perhaps it was nothing more exotic than a way to avoid the stairs, a blessing Mrs. Black surely appreciated.

Bradley & Rulofson’s Studio c 1870s Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

To learn more about the role Maria Loretta Duarte Pacheco Black Velasco (oft-wed, remember?) played in the Black family tragedy, pre-order your copy of Marriage, Murder and Betrayal in Nineteenth-Century California.

Published by Jo Haraf

Jo’s poetry and fiction have been published in the California Writers Club Literary Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Ragnarok. She edited and co-authored "Journal Across the Plains - 1852" (Fonthill 2020). "Marriage, Murder, and Betrayal in Nineteen Century California" will be published in the fall of 2021. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific University. A popular speaker on the craft of writing, Jo is a proud member of the Historical Novel Society, Biographers International, and the California Writers Club. She lives on Florida's Suncoast with her husband and a scruffy terrier whose adoration sustains her through revisions and rejections.

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