Platt Delascus Babbitt was born to William and Hannah Platt Babbitt on May 22, 1823 in Lanesborough, Massachusetts. As a child, he longed to leave the family farm for the exotic locale of Niagara Falls. The origin of his photographic instruction remains unknown, but by age 27, he had opened a gallery on the Canadian side of the Falls, on Ridout Street in London, Ontario. He created stereo views of Niagara Falls printed on high quality E. & H. T. Anthony paper. The Southworth & Hawes stereoscopes he used to produce his whole plates were equally impressive. Because his business depended primarily upon the tourist trade, Mr. Babbitt joined forces with concession owner Saul Davis and other novelty shop owners, including Thomas Tugby, owner of Tugby's Mammoth Bazaar, which was in close proximity to Mr. Babbitt's preferred location for taking photographs. By the early 1850s, he had established his own outdoor studio in the form of a canopied pagoda that had an uninterrupted view of the American side of the Falls. This was the ideal location to make exposures of popular tourist spots such as Terrapin Tower and Goat Island, with the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side looming majestically in the background. Mr. Babbitt could capture in his viewfinder genuine, non-posed tourist reactions to the breathtaking landscape, which they would happily purchase as the ultimate Niagara Falls souvenir.
In 1853, Mr. Babbitt was awarded a lucrative photographic monopoly on the American side of Niagara Falls. He placed his camera atop a permanently installed tripod aimed at Horseshoe Falls, and from his specially constructed pavilion produced customized tourist daguerreotypes that, despite the remote setting, featured the latest techniques. However, on more than one occasion, Mr. Babbitt was forced to physically defend territory from would-be competitors. For example, when Scottish photographer William Thompson attempted to take some of his own regional photographs, "Mr. Babbitt would not have it! Every time Mr. Thompson made an attempt to take the cap off the camera for an exposure, Mr. Babbitt and his forces would stand between the camera and the falls swinging large-sized umbrellas to and fro, thus preventing Mr. Thompson from getting a picture."
After years of focusing primarily on business, Mr. Babbitt married Clara Bowen on December 3, 1855. He continued making tourist daguerreotypes while taking stereo views of prominent individuals visiting the Falls, including the Prince of Wales and famed rope walker known as 'the Great Farini.' Increasing bouts of ill health forced Mr. Babbitt into retirement in 1870. Ironically, nine years later, the photographer ended his suffering by drowning himself in the Falls where he had earned his living. Several of Platt D. Babbitt's tourist exposures of Niagara Falls can be found in such prestigious museum collections as the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC; Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City; and the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles.
1986 A Concise History of Photography by Helmut Gernsheim (New York: Dover Publications, Inc.), p. 32.
1976 The Daguerreotype in America by Beaumont Newhall (New York: Dover Publications, Inc.), p. 69.
2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 105-106.
2017 Niagara in Winter: Table Rock and Horse Shoe Fall - Canada Side (URL: http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/66479/platt-d-babbitt-niagara-in-winter-table-rock-and-horse-shoe-fall-canada-side-american-1860).
2017 Platt D. Babbitt (URL: http://www.luminous-lint.com/app/photographer/Platt_D__Babbitt/A).
2017 Platt Babbitt Daguerreotype of Niagara Falls (URL: http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_554839).
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