Scene at Niagara Falls
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Platt D. Babbitt
American, Niagara Falls, New York, about 1855
5 13/16 x 7 1/8 in.

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In the 1800s Prospect Point at Niagara Falls was a popular destination for travelers in search of a transcendent encounter with nature. The falls were revered as a sacred place that was recognized by the Catholic Church in 1861 as a "pilgrim shrine," where the faithful could contemplate the landscape as an example of divine majesty.

Two well-dressed couples are seen from behind as they stand on the shore downstream from the falls, gazing at its majestic splendor. The silhouetted forms--women wearing full skirts and bonnets and carrying umbrellas and men in stovepipe hats--are sharply outlined against the patch of shore and expansive, white foam.

Platt D. Babbitt would customarily set up his camera in an open-sided pavilion and photograph groups of tourists admiring the falls without their knowledge, as he appears to have done here. Later he would sell the unsuspecting subjects their daguerreotype likenesses alongside the natural wonder.