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Admiral Perry’s photographer is buried here

I’ve heard that a fairly famous early American photographer is buried in Ridgefield. Who is that?

“Regent of Lew Chew,” lithograph from daguerreotype by Eliphalet Brown Jr.

Eliphalet Brown Jr., an accomplished daguerreotypist, lithographer and artist, was born in 1816 in Massachusetts, and began his career as a portrait painter. By 1846, he was a partner with his younger brother, James Sydney Brown, in E. & J. Brown, a New York City portrait business. There he probably learned how to become daguerreotypist, using an early form of photography that created images on silvered metal plates.

In 1852, he went to work for Currier and Ives. A year later, he was chosen to be both a photographer and an artist for Commodore Matthew Perry’s pioneering expedition to Japan in 1853.

“Apparently his known skill as an artist overcame his rather weak experience as a daguerreotypist in Perry’s decision-making process,” writes George C. Baxley, an expert on daguerroeotypes and lithographs. “This was to prove a wise choice…Brown’s skills as an artist proved just as valuable to Perry as his skills as a photographer.”

Historians report Brown took more than 400 daguerreotype images during his two years with the Perry expedition. Most of them have vanished. However, many of his daguerreotypes were converted into lithographs that survive in books — dozens of his images can be viewed on the Internet.

“China girl sycee head,” lithograph from daguerreotype by Eliphalet Brown Jr.

Writing in The Encyclopedia of 19th Century Photography, Bruce T. Erickson observes, “Although, as with so many other early expeditionary photographers, the actual artifacts of his career have largely disappeared, we are fortunate in having enough access to their facsimiles to appreciate the vision and skill Eliphalet Brown Jr. brought to a difficult role.”

After his expedition, Brown appears to have abandoned both art and photography, Erickson writes, and spent the next 20 years as a master and ensign in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War and later in the Mediterrean as    secretary to the commander in chief of the U.S. European Fleet, aboard the flagship Wabash.. He retired in 1875, married, and “seems to have lived quietly until his death on 24 January 1886.”

Mr. Brown is buried in the Coolidge family plot in     Ridgefield Cemetery. That’s because his wife, born Margaret Hawley, married Henry Coolidge in 1847. After his death, she married Mr. Brown. Both husbands and some of her Coolidge children are buried in the plot, but, alas, her own stone has disappeared — perhaps under the turf. It’s not known whether Eliphalet ever lived in the town in which he now resides for eternity.

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