In my journey reading through fairy and nymph research for my book, The Heart Stone Chronicles – The Swamp Fairy, I discovered a fascinating story about a couple of young cousins, Elsie Wright (1900-88) and Frances Griffiths (1907-86) who lived in Cottingley, Yorkshire, England. All five photos are from an article on Wikipedia.
In 1917, these two young women shocked the world with photos of fairies they took using their father’s camera. The media were in an uproar over the photos and at the time, spiritualist and writer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle even used them to illustrate an article he wrote about fairies. It had to be true if the author of Sherlock Holmes believed it, right?
Public reaction to the photos was always mixed. Some people believed the photos were real while others thought they were faked. At the beginning of the 1980’s both Elsie and Frances admitted they had faked the photos. However, Frances said that the fifth and final photograph was the real deal.
Here are the five photos. I found it interesting that if the girls did fake the images they were excellent artists. One article I read said the girls used hat pins to balance the cutouts in their photos so they would not topple over.
The first of the five photographs, taken by Elsie Wright in 1917, shows Frances Griffiths with the alleged fairies.
The second of the five photographs, showing Elsie with a winged gnome.
Frances and the Leaping Fairy, the third photograph.
The fourth photograph, Fairy Offering Posy of Harebells to Elsie.
Fairies and Their Sun-Bath, the fifth and last photograph of the Cottingley Fairies
The key to discovering that the first four images are not real can be found in the first photograph. In the left-hand corner is a waterfall. The photos were taken with a camera that did not have high speeds like they do today. It took about 10 seconds to snap that photograph. That is why the waterfall is blurred. If you apply the same logic to the fairies then, we should not be able to see their wings as they would be beating rapidly. Their wings should be blurred.
The fifth photograph is the one that seems authentic to me. The fairy figures have a mystical almost transparent look to them. The tiny flowers in the image seem to be in scale in relation to the fairy figures. The irony of the whole situation is that the girls faked the first four photos and then possibly stumbled upon the real thing by accident. Who would believe them?
You must remember that in the 1920’s photographs were still a relatively new advancement in culture. People believed what they saw in photos. By the 1980’s people became much more questioning and cynical. Here is a video where Frances’ daughter appeared on the BBC’s Antiques Road Show. This is a keen look into the dynamics of the photos.
I think that is why fairy lore beckons to us. We all want so badly to believe in the magic and wonder as seen through the eyes of a child again. The fairy tale takes us on a journey to “happily ever after,” a place that does not exist for many people in real life. The battle of good vs. evil, with good triumphing, in the end, makes us feel hope that our circumstances are only temporary. Hope is a powerful mechanism in believing in positive outcomes in our lives. Hope allows us to keep moving forward in life.
Always remember. Magic appears when you least expect it!
I believe in fairies, do you?