PROOF! The 1917 Fairy Photos

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?

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About Colleen Chesebro

Colleen M. Chesebro is a writer of cross-genre fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. Her debut novel, a YA fantasy series called, “The Heart Stone Chronicles - The Swamp Fairy,” was published January 2017. The book reveals the story of Abby Forrester, a 14-year-old orphaned girl who is entrusted with saving a community of fairy nymphs from certain ecological destruction. Along the way, Abby learns about friendship, love, and what it means to actually belong to a family. Colleen’s writing explores ecological situations in the multicultural world of today. She combines real-life historical events into her writing to create experiences that will continue in the hearts and heads of her readers. A veteran of the United States Air Force, Colleen is also a retired bookkeeper. She has an Associates Degree in Business Administration, and another Associates Degree in the Arts, which she uses to combine her love of writing with her passion for all things creative. When she is not writing, Colleen enjoys spending time with her husband, dogs, children, and grandchildren. When time permits, she also loves gardening, cooking, and crocheting old fashioned doilies into works of artistry. She lives in the United States with her husband and her two Pomeranians, Sugar, and Spice. You can learn more about Colleen and her writing on her website colleenchesebro.com.

76 Responses

  1. The first 4 photos at glance do seem real to me. The girls and fairies are a different tone than the background The last one I don’t see the far fairies but bags hanging on a tree. I believe there are things we still don’t know or understand.

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          1. There is a rather spectacular carved stone at Cottingley that I wold like to see…. though I believe the Fairy Stone is now behind a private fence… I do have a long lens 😉 I will still look 🙂

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  2. The last photo does appear to be real. We live in a huge universe filled with galaxy upon galaxy, and yet there are people who think our’s is the only planet inhabited by llving things? UFO sightings? Ghosts? We live here for 70 +/- years and leave without a trace? There are too many stories of ghost and ghostly happenings. Of course, there are fairies, and ghosts, and angels, and UFO’s, and extraterrestrials. As a population, we haven’t learned to acknowledge all other forms of life. And if there isn’t anything other than us, these other beings make extraordinary fodder for authors to write fiction.

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  3. Real or not, I loved the fourth one! To me, it not only had the most realistic angle of the girl looking at the fairy, it was the most artistic of them…fascinating that these young girls created such an uproar! Thanks for sharing, Colleen…This is why I love history so much!

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  4. Over the years I have read so much about this story, Colleen. It has often been included in documentaries on TV and I admire what those girls did back then. They had many people fooled for a very long time.

    I, for one, still believe in the tooth-fairy. Shame she does not visit me anymore.

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      1. Haha! Well, the prospect of getting false teeth in order for the tooth-fairy to visit me again is not something I hope will happen. I also brush and floss twice a day. 😉

        I love these kind of mysteries. Sadly, we don’t get programmes like these anymore (not that I am aware about), but you can now see where I get some of writing of short stories from. I was always a huge fan of programmes like the X-Files and The Twilight Zone. We had a British version of The Twilight Zone called Tales of the Unexpected.

        Are you talking about Angela, my tree Angel? I suppose she could also be called a fairy. 🙂 She doesn’t mind in the least.

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  5. Those are indeed amazing photos. I could think of ways in which the 5th could also have been faked with the olden day box cameras (I had one when I was a child, and it’s incredible what can be done with double exposure), but if that is the story, that is the story.

    Having said this, I definitely believe in fairies and always have. Though I can’t really see how they could ever be captured on film, as they move in another dimension. I’ve seen their little lights, I’ve seen tiny movements – the flitter of a wing, the glimmer of fairy magic – and I have their naughty little influence all over my life and my home. They delight in playing tricks!

    I see you’re keeping a word count of your Swamp Fairies novel. 🙂 While it’s fun to do that and it can keep one at it with the writing, please don’t let it limit you. Most of all enjoy the journey! I love it when a story hijacks a writer.

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      1. 🙂 Like I explained to my kids, if I write about fairies and don’t believe in them, how can I expect my readers to believe? But, yes. I see them. Not always, mind… I’m not always aware. You too, that is so lovely!

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  6. Just loved this and yes I do believe in fairies and cannot wait to show the pictures to Kate our walks will now have so much more magic , delightful . Blessings xxx p.s . loved your take on take on how hope is such a wonderful gift to have in our hearts may the light of hope remain with us always. xxx

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  7. I have no doubt about faeries being real. They are shy, and do not readily show themselves on the physical. They do live on another dimension and are expert manifestors. Twilight is often a good time. I’ve read somewhere that each flower has its own faery who stays with it until it is dead. And that the rainbow is actually made up of faeries! Just thought I’d throw those random facts in. Have you ever read Doreen Virtue’s book on Healing with the Faeries? It’s a fascinating read.

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  8. Not bad considering the lack of modern technology then. For me, I choose to believe in the paranormal. Why should our jaded human eyes dictate what lives in our world? Too many cultures and lore from all over the world speak of magic and even UFOs, so there must be something to it all. Thanks for sharing the photos and sparking our imaginations, Colleen 🙂

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