The Cottingly Fairies – One of the Greatest Photo Hoaxes
One of the greatest photographic hoaxes of the 20th century began in 1917, when two young girls claimed to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden. Known as the Cottingly Fairies, the photos prompted a mixed reaction from the start.
What followed was almost a century of speculation, and this is how the hoax unfolded.
The First Photos
In 1917, nine-year-old Frances Griffiths and her mother moved from Cape Town, South Africa, to the United Kingdom, where they stayed with Frances’ aunt in the West Yorkshire village of Cottingly. The girl and her 16-year-old cousin Elsie Wright spent hours playing at the stream at the bottom of the garden, where they claimed to have seen fairies.
Elsie took her father’s Midg quarter-plate, and half an hour later, claimed she had taken a photo of dancing fairies. Arthur Wright, her father, developed the picture and said that he thought his daughter had faked it.
However, her mother, who was a member of an esoteric society, must have felt like players who win big when playing real money pokies games NZ – she believed the photo was real. A couple of months later, the girls borrowed the camera and returned claiming to have taken a photo of a gnome.
The Photos Are Made Public
In 1919, Elsie’s mother took the first two of what became known as the Cottingly Fairy photographs to a Theosophical Society meeting about fairies. A few months later, they were exhibited at the society’s annual conference.
Edward Gardner, a prominent figure in the society, was impressed by the pictures, and took them to a photography expert, who said they were real. Gardner spread news of the fairy pictures far and wide, which eventually attracted the attention of Sherlock Holmes author and spiritualist, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The Second Photos
While Doyle was touring Australia in 1920, Gardner visited the Wrights at their home. Frances was invited to stay with her aunt, uncle, and cousin during the summer holiday, in the hope that the girls would take more photographs of fairies.
In August that year, the girls took three more photos over several days. This delighted Gardner, who informed Doyle of the news. Doyle published an article about fairies featuring the Cottingly photos in the Strand magazine in December. Although incident caused a flurry of interest among the media, which was largely unconvinced, and the public, the hubbub eventually died down during 1921.
However, the incident dogged Elsie and Frances for the rest of their lives. The media revived interest in the 1960s and the 1970s, at which times Elsie said the fairies were figments of their imagination.
An Admission And More
In 1983 and in 1985, Elsie and Frances admitted that the Cottingly fairy photographs were fake. They explained that they had copied pictures from Princess Mary’s Gift Book onto cardboard, added wings, cut them out, and propped them up using hatpins for the photos.
After taking the photos, they threw their props into the stream. However, while Elsie claimed all five photos were fake, Frances insisted that the fifth photo was real.