Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Cottingley Fairies

Two young cousins in the early 20th century were able to pull off one of the world’s greatest hoaxes. They did this with the unsuspecting help of a famous writer.

Cottingley Beck
Where cousins saw
Elsie Wright, 16 and her cousin Francis Griffiths, 10 lived in the small West Yorkshire village of Cottingley Glen England. They spent many hours playing at the bottom of a long garden near a beck or stream.

Francis was severely scolded one day when she returned from the beck with her shoes and dress wet--she had fallen in the stream. Elsie mentioned they enjoyed visiting the beck because there were fairies.

When the skeptical adults did not believe her Elsie borrowed her father’s camera, in July of 1917, and took a picture of Francis in order to cheer her up.

When Elsie’s father developed this plate he spotted strange shapes in front of Francis. Elsie told him these were fairies. Elsie had taken the picture to prove to the adults there were fairies near the beck.

First photo Elsie took of Francis, 1917
The girl’s stated these fairies had white bodies with pale wings of green, mauve and pink.

Second phot Francis took
of Elsie with winged

In August, Francis then took a picture of Elsie with a winged gnome. When Elsie’s father developed this plate he suspected the cousins were playing a prank and refused to let Elsie borrow his camera again.

Despite this the girl’s managed to take three more photographs of the fairies in September.

These photos were kept within the family until Francis sent one in a letter to a friend in South Africa where she had lived before coming to England. Then Polly Wright, Elsie’s mother attended a Theosophical Society meeting in Bradford near Cottingley.

At this meeting Polly mentioned her daughter and niece had photographed fairies. This of course was considered the Holy Grail and the girl’s photos were then shared among various theosophical circles.

Third photo of Francis with fairy.
Fourth photo of Elsie with fairy.

Even though the photos looked suspiciously faked, in early 1920 they caught the attention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Doyle a supporter of Spiritualism firmly believed in spirits, ghosts and survival after death. He sent a theosophist friend, Edward L. Garner to investigate.

Garner pronounced them genuine and sent the photos to Doyle. Doyle asked the opinions of Eastman Company and Kodak but took Gardner’s word as truth.

Also, Elsie’s parents at the time had searched for evidence of trickery but had found none.

A clairvoyant friend Geoffrey Hobson told Doyle he had seen fairies in Cottingley. This further convinced Doyle the photos were real.

When the cousins produced three more photos Doyle was elated. He published an article in the Christmas 1920 issue of Strand Magazine with illustrations. Besides his desire to believe, he refused to believe two innocent young girls could produce such convincing trickery.

In 1922, Doyle published The Coming of the Fairies where he shared more evidence about the cousin’s encounters with the beck fairies. He stated that in future more sightings would be authenticated. He then left for Australia on a lecture tour.

When he retuned to England he found himself the “laughingstock of the press on both sides of the Atlantic.” By this time the photos had been widely circulated and proven to be fake. Doyle, now embarrassed was forced to admit that he had been duped.

It was not until fifty years after Doyle’s death that Wright and Griffiths in the 1980s finally admitted their hoax. They stated they had faked the photographs to get back at adults who had chided them for saying they played with fairies.

Cutouts alongside Princess Mary's Gift Book illustrations.

Years later, the girls stated they used cutouts taken from illustrations in Princess Mary’s Gift Book published in 1915. They then made wings and attached them to these cutouts.

Many people upon first seeing the photos had wondered why the fairies wore modern hair fashions.

The cousins stated that when Doyle had become involved, they had not wanted to embarrass him by admitting the photos were faked. Unfortunately, their silence led to an even greater embarrassment for him.

Fifth photo taken.
One interesting fact is at the time both cousins confessed to their deception, they said as girls they did actually see real fairies. Griffiths went as far as to say the fifth photo they took was not faked but real. 

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